Banishing the Christmas Blues

Whether people celebrate Christmas in the true Christian sense or not, the end of year holiday season is traditionally a time when families and friends get together. The emphasis is very much on reunions – people travel from far and wide, spare rooms are made up and more people are squashed around the dining room table.

Hollywood plays its part, portraying Christmas as the harmonious coming together of friends and family, the giving and receiving of wonderful gifts and the sharing of fabulous meals around the table. But the reality of Christmas for so many people is not like the movies at all. Christmas is fraught with tension, stress and depression for many.

Before the holiday even begins there is so much to be done – work to be completed, year-end parties to attend and the holiday arrangements to be made. There is shopping to do, which, for so many people with very little money, but so much to buy and provide, is nothing short of distressing. There is travelling on busy roads and crowded transport to be endured. It’s no wonder so many of us are stressed out and frantic by the time the holiday begins.

The harmonious gathering of friends and families quickly turns into disharmony as age-old family tensions surface and the old patterns of unhealthy interaction amongst family members manifest themselves, despite all the good intentions that “this year it will be different”.

Christmas is also a sad and lonely time for many. There are those who are not able to get together with loved ones. Many people will be working in jobs that do not allow them time off for a variety of reasons. Some people simply don’t have family or friends with whom to get together. Others don’t have the means to travel to far away relatives, and yet others may be estranged from their families and are no longer welcome at the holiday dinner table.

It’s no co-incidence that the suicide rate increases sharply during the year-end holiday period – when surrounded by people celebrating with loved ones, being left out and alone can simply seem unbearable.

So what can be done to combat the stress and loneliness of the Christmas season? There are lots of things you can do to help yourself feel better, or suggest to others to help themselves.

Rethink the meaning of Christmas

Think about Christmas not as a time, nor as a season, but rather as a state of mind. Get back to the true meaning of Christmas – cherish peace and goodwill, let go of grudges and forgive, have mercy on those less fortunate and offer unconditional love to all. This positive mindset will go a long way in helping alleviate the Christmas blues.

Give the Gift of You

You are not the only person spending the festive season on your own. There will be many people in hospices and old-age homes, for example, who won’t have a single visitor. Pop in and ask to visit someone who has no visitors. Ask them if you can hold their hand. You’ll be amazed at the happiness this simple gesture will bring – for both you and the person you visit. The simple act of touching someone can have huge health benefits. Touch has been shown to alleviate depression, improve immune function, reduce pain, enhance attentiveness, decrease blood pressure and calm the heart rate.

Volunteer at a shelter or hospital. Seeing others in situations worse than yours will help to put a lonely holiday season into perspective.

Reframe ‘Compulsory’ Work into a Choice

If you are obliged to work for whatever reason, try to reframe a ‘bad deal’ into a good one. Find the meaning in the fact that you are having to work over Christmas, so you don’t see yourself as a victim but rather a victor. Choose to make the day for those working with you special in some way. Be the one who brings joy into the day.

Invite Others to Join you

Spend the weeks coming up to Christmas catching up with friends, acquaintances and colleagues – and find out who else will be alone for Christmas. Invite them to join you. Ask everyone to contribute to the meal in some way – either with food, or fun activities to entertain you all.

Own Your Alone Time

If you usually work long hours in a stressful job, a couple of days which you can dedicate completely to yourself – guilt-free – is a wonderful present! Spend the day in your pajamas if you like, have a long bubble bath with scented candles, catch up on reading books and magazines, watch those movies you missed first time round, write overdue letters and emails to friends and family, snooze in the afternoon, de-clutter your home…the possibilities are endless and enjoyable.

Make the Connection

Even if you physically can’t be with family or friends, you can, thanks to the wonders of technology, do the next best thing. Spending 20 uninterrupted minutes catching up with a loved one on Skype or over the phone will boost your mood for a long time afterwards. Research shows that spending time connecting with friends lowers stress levels and helps decrease symptoms associated with depression. Just talking to loved ones can help us feel happier, have more patience, and increase our tolerance for stress.

Get Out and About

If you live in an area where it is possible, and safe to do so, going for a walk or run is a great way to get rid of the blues - and the residential roads will be virtually empty – a rare treat! Even a brief walk at low intensity can improve mood and increase energy, and as little as 10 minutes of aerobic exercise can have a positive effect.

Go on Holiday - With Yourself!

If you know in advance that you’re going to be alone over the holidays, book yourself a getaway at a spa, game reserve, chalet in the mountains, cottage at the beach…anywhere YOU want to go. Spend the time getting to know a new place, or revisiting a favourite spot. And if you haven’t planned beforehand, there are always great last minute deals to be had. Airlines reduce the price of tickets if you fly on Christmas day, for example. Take the opportunity to explore somewhere new! You will come back with a fresh perspective and enhanced creativity.