We are told that Christmas, for Christians, should be the happiest time of year, an opportunity to be joyful and grateful with family, friends and colleagues. Yet, many people are unhappy at Christmas and according to the National Institute of Health, they can experience depression.
Hospitals and police forces report incidences of suicide and attempted suicide. Psychiatrists, psychologists and other mental health professionals report a significant increase in patients complaining about depression. One North American survey reported that 45% of respondents dreaded the festive season.
It is often a time that some of my clients who are facing emotional or relationship challenges in life, find very difficult.
Why? Is the Grinch in full force during the season? Is it because of the dark winter weather that increases the incidence of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)? Certainly those may be some reasons, but it appears to have more to do with unrealistic expectations and excessive self-reflection for many people. And as happiness expert Sonja Lyubomirsky argues, the holiday season is a time rife with “Pollyannaish” expectations.
For some people, they get depressed at Christmas and even angry because of the excessive commercialization of Christmas, with the focus on gifts and the emphasis on "perfect" social activities. Other get depressed because Christmas appears to be a trigger to engage in excessive self-reflection and rumination about the inadequacies of life (and a "victim" mentality) in comparison with other people who seem to have more and do more.
Still others become anxious at Christmas because of the pressure (both commercial and self-induced) to spend a lot of money on gifts and incur increasing debt. Other people report that they dread Christmas because of the expectations for social gatherings with family, friends and acquaintances that they'd rather not spend time with. And finally, many people feel very lonely at Christmas, because they have suffered the loss of loved ones or their jobs.
So what should you do, if you're among those who become unhappy or get depressed at Christmas? Mental health professionals who treat people with this problem suggest the following:
The Christmas season has become a difficult time for many people in our society. For those of us who don't have difficulties at this time of year, it's an opportunity to reach out to those who become depressed. For those who are depressed, it's an opportunity to take action to think, feel and act in ways that breaks free from the past the best that you can, regardless of circumstances.