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TOPIC: Depression during the holidays

Depression during the holidays 27 Nov 2016 17:47 #11074

  • wendell.t
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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, according to the National Institute of Health, Christmas is the time of year that people experience a high incidence of depression. Hospitals and police forces report high 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.

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.

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 get depressed at Christmas? Mental health professionals who treat people with this problem suggest the following:

First, if the depression is serious, seek out the help of a qualified mental health professional;
Set personal boundaries regarding the money spent on gifts and the number of social events;
Don't accept any "perfect" representation of Christmas that the media, institutions or other people try to make you believe. Lower your expectations and any attachment to what it should look like; be present and enjoy each moment as best you can;
Become involved in giving in a non-monetary way through charities and worthwhile causes that help less fortunate people;
Be grateful for what you have in your life, rather than focusing on what you don't have;
Avoid excessive rumination about your life;
Take action and do interesting and fun things;
If you are religious, take part in church activities that focus on the bigger meaning of Christmas;
Focus your thoughts on all the good things about Christmas--the opportunity to engage in loving kindness, generosity of spirit, and gratitude for others in your life.
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.
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Depression during the holidays 27 Nov 2016 18:11 #11076

  • alyssa.r.
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Hi Wendell,

I think you make wonderful points. Too often our expectations of Christmas are unrealistic and unattainable, leading to feelings of loneliness and depression. There are all kinds of ways to celebrate the holidays and most don't look like the holidays you see in movies and advertising. You're right that it's important not to ruminate about one's life too much and to direct one's attention to the happier and more immediate things in life. Lastly, and most importantly in my opinion, you bring up the idea of reaching out to others with depression. I think it's a very important and powerful thing to do. Even the smallest gestures can mean so much.
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Depression during the holidays 04 Dec 2016 20:33 #11157

  • carina.h
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I find this surprising but in a way, I guess not because of the points you made. Some people don’t have anyone to celebrate with or they have high expectations of what a perfect Christmas should be. I guess it’s surprising to me because I’ve never thought that what I saw in advertisements and movies were realistic. I know that they are trying to sell us what Christmas should be but I already have a way of how I do things during Christmas time so I don’t pay much attention. Luckily, this brings out the good in people so I hope people take the opportunity like you said to help out those who might be feeling down during the holidays and also volunteering to help those who don’t have much during this time of the year.
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