"'t is the season to be jolly": Is it? Coping with the Christmas Blues
Updated: Sep 29, 2019
The Christmas carols say it all:
“’tis the season to be jolly”
Well what if it isn’t, really?
Although for most of us the mere thought of Christmas brings instant warm and fuzzy feelings, and a sense of pleasant anticipation, for many people Christmas is a far cry from being a happy blissful holiday filled with love, laughter, presents and joy.
Instead, they experience a mild form of depression known as the Christmas blues. They feel low, melancholic, somewhat sad, unmotivated and simply cannot enjoy this time of the year as much as they "should", based on the societal norms surrouding the Holiday Season. Sometimes the reasons for this low mood are not clear or evident to us.
In this blog post, we explore the reasons for the Christmas blues as well as some coping techniques to assist you during the holidays.
Christmas Blues: Why?
We can consider the main reasons for Christmas Blues to be expectations, comparison and stress from various sources.
Especially expectations and comparison are understandably bound to negative moods:
We expect things to be great and then reality doesn’t rise up to our expectations
We compare our life and situation to that of others or our Past, and there is quite a big difference between the two
Both comparison and expectation are so relevant for negative mood, because they take us away from what is and towards what should be.
If we can place more energy and focus on the Present Moment, if we become more conscious and mindful of whatever our circumstances are right now, without comparing to something ideal or expecting a radical change, then our sense of contentment and satisfaction from life will undoubtedly increase.
Since childhood, we are told that Christmas is a time of happiness, love, bliss and joyful family reunions.
Thus we come to expect this, or at least hope that it will be the most wonderful time of the year- also for us.
Yet the reality may be far from this.
The pressure is high when we are bombarded by Christmas reminders earlier and earlier each year, and it is imprinted in us that we are supposed to have a dreamy great time during the holidays.
Despondency is not easily acceptable in this time of year. Even if compassion is amongst the basic values celebrated during Christmas, not many may be sympathetic to you, if you are the only one drinking alone next to the Christmas tree, when everybody else around you is cheerfully chatting and connecting.
This can leave people that experience the Christmas blues feel more lonely and misunderstood, as their worries are swiftly brushed off by a remark such as : “But cheer up! It is Christmas!”
It is almost as if you are not allowed to feel anything but happy.
In addition, Christmas is a time for evaluation for many, since it is at the end of the year. It is a moment of reflection on the whole year: we look back at what we have accomplished, what we have gained and lost, as well as whether our resolutions and goals where fulfilled. This process may sometimes prove disappointing, if we fall short of our expectations.
We compare our own situation to what it could or should be like.
Think glossy Christmas advertisements and commercials: everyone is dressed up, glowing, smiling, no negative feelings allowed.
Comparison is constantly everywhere during Christmas, and this greatly contributes to feeling melancholic:
Perhaps friends of us have more money and better ability to enjoy this holiday than we do.
Perhaps we can not throw such a fabulous Christmas party like others do.
Perhaps we cannot afford the same sort of gifts for our loved ones.
Perhaps we don’t even have this warm family feeling to begin with, because we are lonely and spending Christmas in solitude. And what is sadder than being alone on Christmas?
As we grow older, Christmas can be a painful reminder of how the past was more pleasant than it is now. For instance, we may compare our lives now with Christmas past, when loved ones were still around (if we are grieving the loss of someone special), or when our life seemed better and more careless, with less problems than currently.
This is especially difficult for people that are grieving, or are separated/ widowed/ divorced: then the comparison with the past can actually hurt.
But even if none of this is the case for you, maybe you hold up this golden image of Christmas that you had when you were a child, without cares or responsibilities, and this is lightyears apart from your present life state. In the best case scenario, memories of past Christmas make you moved and wamly nostalgic.
The two above factors may be the most significant stressors during the Christmas period, but they are not the only ones.
Christmas is a financially pressuring period, with all the holiday plans, tickets, special dinners, presents to friends and family. For most people, careful financial planning is required in preparation for Christmas, and this can cause quite a strain in your bank account and, subsequently, mood.
Christmas also means family gatherings and reunions. Although this is overall considered as a pleasant and happy occasion, it may not always be the case for everyone. Often people become estranged with family members due to disagreements or simply different life routes. Yet they are called to sit with everyone on the same table and join in the Holiday spirit of smiles and cheerfulness.
Family reunions may be a great source of stress, because you need to get along with people you would otherwise not plan to meet, or even end up in family conflicts and heated arguments. This can cause feelings of tension, resentment, disappointment and loneliness.
Even in the happiest families and individuals, Christmas is rarely a time to rest- we are rather busy all the time, planning and organizing get-togethers and special occasions, shopping, cooking and at the same time trying to keep up with our smile.
We tend to care a lot about pleasing others and often worry about the prospect that we won’t ; What if the food or decoration is not up to their liking? What if everything ends up not to be all shiny and perfect in the end?
Moreover, the streets and shops are constantly busy and packed with people and Christmas music is loud everywhere. This may be pleasant and cosy for some, but for others it is a source of great stress and trigger of agoraphobia, the Christmas stimuli may seem overbearing and overwhelming.
How to Cope with Christmas Melancholy This Year
1. Buy presents = Be Present
If the financial burden of Christmas is stressing you out, it may be useful to remember that the actual meaning of Christmas
before it was overtaken by consumerism,
is Presence and Connectedness with the ones that truly matter to you.
The meaning of Christmas is intimacy and love.
Can you commit to being fully there, when you reunite with your friends and family?
Can you offer them your undivided attention when you sit down to dinner with them?
Can you just be wherever you are, without the need to be perfect?
If you cannot afford presents, you can still show your love and appreciation to the ones that have a special place in your heart.
For instance, you can write to them heartfelt and sincere wishes as well as express to them how much they mean to you. You can just arrange to meet them and bring yourself and your smile.
2. Expect Perfection = Be Grateful
Expectation is the root of all heartache.
High expectations of what the holiday season should be like is often what is keeping us from actually enjoying it.
The purpose is not to be perfect - but to appreciate and be grateful for what you do have.
Instead of comparing yourself to others or to echoes of the past, you can employ an attitude of gratitude and count your blessings.
What do you have / see/ hear/ smell / experience that you can be thankful for?
Even if your Present is different than the Past, instead of reminiscing how it used to be, try actually immersing yourself in what is now.
There are surely even small things to be grateful for; you are more fortunate than others around you- you are alive.
Grasp every little opportunity to be mindful about what is worth your energy and attention around you.
3. Please Others = Take care of yourself
If you are overstressed with planning and preparing for Christmas, in order for others to be happy, take a step back and focus on your self-care first.
Self-care and regular patterns are the first things affected by the holidays season, as we get completely off schedule, overeat, overdrink, sleep late and get socially active more often and more intensely than during the rest of the year.
If there are way too many holiday responsibilities on your shoulders, take some time for yourself and choose even one little thing that can positively contribute to you focusing your energy on yourself and nobody else.
Take time to rest and rejuvenate, this will definitely pay off on your level of enjoyment and participation in the various shared Christmas activities.
Moreover, during Christmas we are usually overstimulated by many different people, social events and experiences. Some time alone can provide a great moment to absorb all that you experience and reflect on it all.
This is crucial, because when you are pushed beyond your boundaries, you are likely going to fail to please anyone else as well.
4. Plan Parties = Enjoy Parties with Less Stress
You can share the burden of the Christmas party organization by delegating and sharing responsibilities with your visitors.
It may sound paradoxical, but more and more people seem to opt for shared-effort holiday dinners. Think of it like a potluck Christmas party!
The results are often amazing, since the details of the special occasion are shared between several people instead of lying on the shoulders of one household.
Not only that, but this is an excellent opportunity for connectedness and substantial contact with others.
Another tip if you are overwhelmed by the hecticness of the season and the crammed stores and streets, is to organize yourself well in advance, instead of a couple of days before the dinner.
5. Be Perfect = Be Authentic
Contrary to Christmas expectations, that demands that everyone is in their highest moods, if you’re feeling low this Christmas you can make a conscious choice to be honest and authentic with yourself,
instead of faking a constantly perfect Persona.
If you’re struggling, say so. Express this to someone you trust. You don’t have to sink in a low mood, but you don’t have to pretend everything is fabulous, when it truly isn’t.
If Christmas blues is too intense, it is worthwhile to acknowledge it and even seek professional help, if things seem to be too overwhelming.
It is important to distinguish whether you are a bit melancholic, or whether this is a case of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD- Winter Depression) that is persistent for the whole winter period and requires treatment.
During the holiday, it becomes relatively easy to fill the void of any negative feelings with delicious food and alcohol. If you feel low, resist the temptation to drink your sorrows away, because this is likely to make things worse in hindsight.
The pressure to satisfy different social contacts and relatives can be overwhelming. If this applies to you, you can be different this year and arrange meetings with the people you truly want to see- not the ones you are supposed to meet because of tradition. Choose how and with whom you want to share your time and energy.
6. Be Active and Connect with Others
If you feel depressed, lonely and melancholic, the temptation to lock yourself at home and escape the Christmas frenzy may be high.
Yet isolation is not the way to go. Maintaining a healthy balance between alone time and active time is much preferable.
By reaching out, you may soon realize there are much more like-minded individuals out there that would gladly spend more time with you.
7. Keep the Peace and your Boundaries
If you feel overwhelmed by the intensity of a family reunion, it can be helpful to remind yourself that the original meaning of the holidays is peace.
This does not mean you have to pretend you love everyone, but it does mean that maintaining basic peace and serenity and staying away from unnecessary drama and conflict is great for your own peace of mind.
If you feel triggered by something a relative said, that can quickly escalate into an argument, a step towards self-care could be to respectfully walk away from the impeding conflict and take a break just for yourself instead.
Even if such a move could seem rude to others, you could be thanking yourself later for maturely avoiding a potentially harmful interaction.
This is all about putting up your boundaries, that most of the times seem harder to implement with the people closest to us: our family.
Don’t be afraid to be bold and look ahead; it is crucial that after the holiday season you can look back at it with a smile, and not with resentment and regret.
8. Make Meaningful Memories
Even if you dislike the Christmas vibe, it is significant to remember that, like every other holiday or special occasion, what truly matters is to make the very best out of it and attempt to remember it later with positive feelings.
If you feel out of the Christmas atmosphere, you can regard the holiday season just like any other ordinary day, and just keep up with your regular routine.
In my view, mindfulness is the key word here as well. Be mindful and fully absorb each moment with all of your senses; it will never come back.
Regardless if you feel happy this Christmas or if you feel melancholic, keep in your mind that this too shall pass.
So dive as deep into the Present as you can,
make meaningful and connected memories
and enjoy this Christmas without expectations or comparisons!