Christmas Depression – What?
Today, it is Christmas and for many, it can be a great time to celebrate with family and friends. Imagine putting the Christmas tree up, decorating the house, putting the Christmas lights outside for people to watch, taking photos with Santa Clause, watching Christmas Carols, cooking (and of course eating) a large feast and exchanging Christmas Cards and presents. Sounds like a happy time usually, I guess…right?
Sadly, that isn’t the case for other people as Christmas can be such a difficult time. I know what you’re gonna say with that confused look on your face, “But Davo, what are you talking about? Christmas is supposed to be a happy occasion!” I wish that was true in a perfect world but it is not and what we call it is “Christmas Depression” or “Holiday Blues”. You probably have never heard of it or even be aware of it too and that is why I want to highlight and raise awareness of this. I know I have already spoken about this before on my blog back in 2014 but I want to do it again as I now have more experience.
Firstly though, let me tell you guys a true story about a young boy when he started primary school. Let’s call him Ming.
Ming would always get excited for Christmas every year. He and his family would always spend Christmas together with the rest of the extended family. Because their house was the biggest, they will always host the gathering. Before the big day, Ming and his family would clean the house and decorate with Christmas stuff, they would also prepare the food in advance and as well, they would write Christmas cards and wrap up presents to give to family and friends.
When the big day arrives, Ming and his family can feel the excitement buzzing in the air because they haven’t seen their relatives in a while and when they arrived, they were happy to see each other them. They greet each other with, kisses and hugs all around and they also talk to each other about what they have been up to and any gossips they have had heard. After settling down, everyone is helping out setting the dinner table, preparing and cooking the food for the large feast. Once all the food has been cooked, it is time to dig in eating a large smoked ham leg, prawns, potato salad, spaghetti bolognese and more! After feasting, they feel so full and they had to wait until their stomach digest all the food.
After about waiting half n hour or so, the best bit of the night for Ming comes with exchanging gifts with one another. He wanted that present that he always wanted and he was so grateful that his family was able to get that present. His family were also grateful for him too for the presents that he bought for them. It’s like everyone had a great time during Christmas and they would always do this every year.
With each year that passes by for Ming when he grew older, he would get less excited for Christmas. This was very unusual for him because Christmas time would always cheer him up and by the time when he got to high school, it seems like he didn’t look forward to Christmas anymore. What was happening for him? Well, during school Ming got severely bullied by two groups of bullies and it was hard because he kept it a secret and was feeling so alone like he felt like he wasn’t able to talk to anyone. Although the bullying did eventually stop thanks to a brave teacher, the damage was already done and it was quite traumatic for the scared little boy.
When Ming looked at his whole family during the Christmas party one year, they were all happy and talking to each other and this really made him sad as he felt like the odd one because he didn’t have that spirit of joy. Every time when a Christmas song comes up, it made him teary. He was quieter and didn’t interact as much. His family were confused why he wasn’t himself but Ming made up an excuse saying he was just feeling sick. The family didn’t think much of it and thought it was a one-off thing but in fact, it was always the case for each Christmas.
Because Ming didn’t want to ruin Christmas and felt like he had high expectations to be happy, he would always pretend to be someone who was happy but deep inside, he wasn’t okay. When he had a chance to be alone during the family Christmas party, he would cry and feel so alone but when someone comes up to him, he would dry away his tears and put on his happy face mask. After they were gone, he would sigh with a big relief and take his mask off because it takes so much effort for him to pretend to be someone else.
Anyway, in the final two years of high school, Ming (who is now growing into a young man) went through his first two losses to death which devastated him. First, his dog passed away and the next year his grandma passed away (who he was really close to both of them) passed away from old age and since then, his life was never the same and that was the same for Christmas as it was quieter. The first and second Christmas without them was hard for the family but they were still able to have the family Christmas party and get through it.
However, every time Christmas comes up, it was always an anxiety trigger for Ming and had the anticipation due to the build-up to the end of the year. He has a fear of the unknown if Christmas would be bad again as it brings back bad memories of what he went through in school. Sometimes, he can’t help but compare his family to himself because they all seem to be going well with their lives but he feels like he is way behind where he wanted to be in terms of goals.
These days, the family Christmas party is not much of a big deal as it was used to be and it is now only a small gathering. There was even one Christmas where Ming spent Christmas in hospital by himself and that was the second year without his late grandma who he missed so much as when she was alive. she would always make him more cheerful.
So, you must be asking who is Ming and how do I know him? Well, Ming is a person I met since birth so I have known him all my life.
Now, I have a question for all of you, who do you think Ming was?
Well, the truth is, Ming is actually me. I just changed their name and happen to like the name Ming. I also do apologise if my story-telling wasn’t that great but I just wanted to give you guys another view and make a point why Christmas can be hard. In fact, when I was writing this, I got so teary because it was hard to tell this story.
This Christmas Depression or Holiday Blues is real. My Christmas experience at first started a happy beginning when I was a little kid but when years went by and I experience stuff that no kid should have to go through, it made Christmas so hard.
Now with the current COVID-19 pandemic, it has now affected the whole world in so many ways and it also made Christmas very difficult for so many so I really feel for them.
List of Reasons
Here is a list of reasons why this season can be stressful.
Mental Health – Having a mental illness isn’t nothing to be ashamed of and it is not your fault. During Christmas time, it can make you more vulnerable and your symptoms worse.
Loneliness – Being by yourself on Christmas Day without family or friends is can make you feel quite lonely or even if you’re not by yourself, you can still feel alone. There are so many people out that won’t be able to spend Christmas without their loved ones. Reasons could be being overseas, interstate, the border restrictions due to COVID, lockdown and many more.
Grief – Losing a loved one is heartbreaking and it is more difficult if it is the first Christmas without them as it won’t be the same or there are reminders of them if it’s not the first Christmas.
Expectations – This one is tough because when you’re feeling down and other people around you are more joyful than you are and because of that, you expect to be joyful too. It is so tiring and draining.
No Support – At the moment, a lot of access to support such as mental health like psychologist, psychiatrist, GP, day programs or other services unrelated to mental health are closed because of Christmas and for someone like me who struggles with mental health, that is hard.
Family Issues – If you have an issue with a family member and you can’t get along with them but you have to see them at a family gathering, it is not easy as it can increase more conflict and anxiety.
Missing Out – You want to go to a gathering but can’t go because it’s either you’re working, feeling sick, didn’t get invited, isolate due to COVID-19 or any other reasons, you feel left out and missing out the fun.
Past Experiences – If you ever had a bad experience during Christmas in the past such as trauma or other reasons, it can affect you and you feel like the next Christmas will be the same one as the one before.
Financial Stress – Buying gifts for other people but you struggling with money because you lost a job, not being able to work, going through debt, not earning enough, it can be such a struggle.
Work/Other Commitments – If you’re working or have other commitments that you have to juggle, it is exhausting
Being Behind/Not Reaching Goals – The year is nearly over and compare to other people, you feel like you’re falling behind. Your friends and family all have jobs, they have partners, some got married and even already have kids. You feel like you haven’t reached your goals for this year and feels like you wasted another year.
Christmas Shopping – I’m listing this one because doing Christmas shopping in person can be stressful because you have to buy everything before the deadline and because of the chaos at shopping centres and on the roads, everyone is doing a mad rush.
These are the ones that I can think of and note, I could have listed more reasons but because there’s so many out there, it would be too long to list them all.
Some Helpful Skills
If you feel like you’re struggling during the Christmas holidays, here are some tips and skills you can use.
– Plan ahead: If you plan your schedule in advance, you don’t need to worry about what you should do during the week and this is important because it helps you keep busy. If you’re at home all day all week and doing nothing but having way too much time thinking, it’s actually not ideal as it can make it worse.
– Set realistic goals: If you have a goal you want to reach but it feels like it can be impossible or it takes a long time, try setting it up so it can be achievable. Take small steps rather than big steps as it is more realistic.
– Alternative ways for Christmas Shopping: If you want to avoid the mad rush, start your Christmas shopping early, shop online (but be careful of scammers) or avoid the peak hours.
– Organise meet-ups: If you’re feeling lonely during Christmas or don’t have anyone to spend Christmas with, you can organise a time to catch up with family or friends. If you can’t meet up with them or they live far away, there’s the power of technology! I know it is not the same but it’s so much better than nothing.
– Prioritising your own needs: If you feel like you need to priortise your needs over other people’s, that is perfectly okay. if you also feel like you can’t look after other people or see other people, you can take a step back. The most important thing is looking after yourself. If you can’t look after yourself, how are you suppose to look after other people’s need? And no it’s not selfish at all.
– Mindfulness: Mindfulness is a type of meditation that I actually learned in therapy. Being mindful means being aware of your thoughts, feelings, urges, your surroundings around you like sounds or sight etc. You notice it’s there but you don’t interact with them and learn how to cope with them, that’s the whole point. It will take a lot of practice using mindfulness and I know it’s not for everyone.
– Know your triggers early: If there are certain anniversaries that come up during Christmas or any triggers that could set up a relapse, set up a plan in advance. Let your support team or loved ones know so they are aware of your triggers and they can support you in case.
– Remembering loved ones: Everyone grieves in their own way and there is no right or wrong way to do it. Do what you feel is right for you as long as it is healthy. Share your memories of your loved ones who have passed with family and friends as it can help you to heal and think of the great memories and cherish the time you had together. You can even set up a memorial or do something great in their memory like writing a letter to them or do a drawing or anything that relates to your loved one. It’s so easy to think about the sad times, that’s okay but you don’t want to do it all the time as it can have an impact on your mental and physical health.
– Grounding: Grounding is one technique you use to get yourself back in the presence if you are dissociating, have overwhelming thoughts, emotional pain or getting flashbacks from the past. If you feel like you’re losing control, grounding helps you detach from them. Some techniques that can help is holding ice to feel the cold, doing intense exercise (boxing, squats, running) that makes your heart rate goes fast, using 5 Senses Grounding Technique (what you can see, smell, hear, taste, touch). If that all doesn’t work, take a cold shower or splash water on your face.
– Eat: I’m not an expert on food but I know food gives you energy and if you are skipping meals (unless you’re on a diet), you won’t function properly. Eat in moderation so you don’t overeat or undereat. Try to eat more healthy too so if you want something sugary, try eating fruits or go for the healthier option if it’s deep-fried, try doing baked. Also if you love to cook like me, you can cook whatever you want like baking cookies or try cooking a new recipe.
– Sleep: Not only we get energy from food but we also get it from sleeping when we rest our bodies. Apparently, we should try to get at least 8 hours of sleep or whatever hours that is enough for you. Oversleeping is not good for you as it could make you more tired. It’s also good to have a good routine so your body system knows what time to wake up every morning and go to bed at the same time every night.
– Exercise: Apparently we should exercise at least half and hour. If you can’t do half and hour, spread it out so do one in the morning and one in the afternoon. Even going out for walks is good. It will keep you fit and it also releases the healthy endorphins in your brain.
– Music: I love music and it is one of my passions in life. Playing on my guitar, ukulele and piano helps me get everything out of my mind because I can just play it out and do my own thing. I also love to serenade to other people as it makes them relaxed and more peaceful. If you can’t play an instrument, that’s okay! You can also just listen to the music and sing along with the lyrics. Another thing if you like to hear the sounds of the beach and the waves, you can listen to that. It feels like you’re actually at the beach without going to one.
– Creative Arts: If you like art, this could be the thing for you. You can paint whatever you want to paint or even just draw what’s in front of you. If that’s not your thing, you can even do a collage. It doesn’t have to be perfect and so what if it doesn’t look like the best. You don’t have to be like Leonardo da Vinci. It’s your own art! That’s all it matters!
– Be adventurous or try something new: Remember that time you always wanted to try that new hobby of yours but never had the chance to start it? Well, here is your chance to do it now. For example, I started picking up drawing when I was in hospital but because I was never good at it in school, I didn’t even dare to try it again. One nurse gave me a task to do a sketch of me and my dog Tank and show it to her after I finished. I was a bit hesitant at first but gave it a go and it wasn’t the worse drawing but still good enough that made me want to draw more and hence, I picked up drawing.
– Volunteer job or helping others: A great way to give back to the community or people who are more unfortunate is volunteer at charities or non for profit like Lifeline. Donate clothes or things you don’t need, donate blood, help make hampers or ask anyone if they need help. I find if I help other people when they need help and know that I have helped them, it makes me feel I have accomplished something and that I have contribute to their lives.
– Christmas Gifts/Cards: I like to give out inspirational Christmas cards because I want people to feel better about themselves and if they supported me with something, I like to give something back to them. The different messages I write to people in their cards, they tell me that they are very powerful and inspiring and they all really appreciated my gratitude and that makes me happy. You also don’t need to buy a very expensive gift as well, it can be just like a gift card or something small.
– Sunshine: We all need sunshine because it gives you energy and it’s good for our bodies especially for those who are living where winter is and don’t get a lot of sunshine! Go to the beach if it’s a sunny day or go have a picnic. It’s also a great way to connect with nature, listen to the birds, feel the breeze of the wind and look at the surroundings.
– Know this will pass: Christmas is not forever but it is a time that will pass. Tomorrow will be a new day, take each day as it comes
– Writing/Blogging: Writing in your diary or journal is a great way to express yourself. You could just write about how your day was, rate what mood you are feeling out of 10 in the morning and then rate it again in the evening to monitor and you don’t have to show it to anyone. Maybe you can do creative writing and write your own book. You already know what blogging does for me but it doesn’t have to be what I’m doing. If you have an interest in anything you like say photography, you can do that or if you like to design things, you can do that too.
– Stop Comparing: Okay, sorry I know I may sound blunt but please do me a favour and try not to compare with other people. Everyone is different and are at a different stage in their lives. Although some people make look like they have a perfect life, that isn’t always the case. Even for me I can’t help compare to my friends and family but I tell you guys a secret, I’ve been single for 12 years so I still yet to find the right girl (if anyone knows one, let me know! hehe) and I’m not working due to my mental illness but I know I am not alone as there are other people going through the same thing and I’m so grateful for what I have now.
– Support network: Since it’s Christmas, most of the clinics will be closed but if you need to talk to someone, contact someone you trust like a family member or a close friend. If you’re not able to talk to them or anyone else, there are hotlines that are available to you locally.
– Get Help Immediately: If you or someone you know are at any time feeling unsafe or feeling at risk and requires immediate help, please call your local emergency provider or go to your nearest local hospital emergency department and stay calm. They will happily assist you if any help required. If it’s not an emergency but you really need to talk to someone straight away, you can always call a local crisis number
– Psychiatric Hospital: If you feel like you need to take a break from everything and feel like life is too much to cope, it is perfectly okay to go into a psychiatric hospital voluntary. Being admitted into a psychiatric hospital could help you or even maybe it is someone you know who is struggling. There will always be 24/7 support, although because each hospital is different, they will have their own programs, it still acts the same.
Phew! That was quite a long list of tips and skills and I know there are plenty more out there. The skills that I have listed are the ones that I have learned in various therapies with the cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) and dialectical behavior therapy (DBT). Also, anyone can use these skills. While one skill works for one person, it may not work for someone else so you may want to try and experiment.
This Christmas for me, it has been really hard because the last two months have been a rollercoaster ride for me. After getting back on my feet into normal life with TAFE after going through that hard lockdown, I went through two heartbreaking news in late November that I never wanted to hear. First, one of my family members has cancer (thankfully it is not terminal but still serious) and then secondly, I found out my close eldery friend passed away in an unexpected tragic accident. This happened in the space of two days which I actually cannot believe and it is my fifth loss in three years.
Plus, I had my last day for my Commercial Cookery Course for the year a few days later (after hearing the shocking news) which was so sad because I find that we finished TAFE way too early and it was my final day with my new helper who I get along really well with as a team. Since I don’t have that normal routine, I find I have way too much time. As much as hard it is for me to get out of the house now, I have to try push myself as being at home doing nothing is no good and I have to keep busy.
The thing that is helping me to keep going and live my life each day is the support from my family, friends and my mental health support team. When I don’t feel like doing anything, they give me a nudge and help me to keep active and continue on with my passions. Without their support, I wouldn’t be where I am now.
One final thing, lately, I’ve been talking to some family and friends and they are also struggling at the moment and it really struck me. Why? Because I realised I am not alone with this Christmas Depression or Holiday Blues.
To my family and friends and of course, anyone who is struggling at this time, you are not alone. It is okay to be not okay and you don’t need to pretend that you have to be strong as I have done that in the past and it never works. Try to sit with your emotions and if you want to cry, cry. If you want to scream, do that. Find ways to keep your mind busy and ways to cope as that will help. Like with everything, it will take time and patience, but make sure not to be alone and reach out if you need support. I know it’s easy for me to say but hard to do for you. Please know that I’ll always be here for you as a friend and someone who will listen and will never judge you.
Also, for those who have been supporting me during this difficult time, thank you again for being there for me. I really appreciate the support as I will always value our friendship!
To end on a positive, I’ll be posting photos at the end of the post of some Dark Chocolate Macarons I made by myself to give to family and friends for Christmas. These batches were the best ones I have done in my 7th attempt and I’m so happy it was a success. All my family and friends loved it and said it wasn’t too sweet. Keep believing in yourself and know that you can do it
Thank you guys for reading. Have a Merry Christmas to you, your family and friends and please stay safe in the holidays wherever you are. Look after each other and remember to reach out if you ever need support. There is no shame in doing that as I’ve been through that before and I’m still here. You are not alone.
Giving back some random love to you guys. Be random but stay safe! ^_^
Thank you for sharing such a personal story, Davo. You are so kind, encouraging other people who might be having a sad and difficult time this Christmas. Hold your head up high and keep going, young man. I am proud to call you my friend. Carolyn
Love your suggestions. I myself have found that a good diet and constant exercise has helped me cope better than anything else, and of course, I’d love to stack more good habits on top of that. But those two are a good base, like tomato puree on pizza.
And as someone who’s just started baking, your macarons look amazing. Thanks for sharing!