Have the Holiday Blahs?

Reviewed by Dr Sheri Jacobson

Everyone around you is giddy and planning their holiday with loved ones. And the happier they seem, the worse you feel.

Feeling depressed at Christmas isn’t uncommon, and there can be good reasons for it.

Why do I feel so terrible every Christmas?

There can be obvious reasons you have the 'blahs'. Perhaps you are away from family this year, or had a recent breakup. The Christmas you’d expected isn’t happening and you feel let down. Depression, though, tends to seem out of the blue, or for no exact reason.

Not sure if it is or isn't depression? Read a case study of Christmas depression on the Young Minds UK website.

Loneliness is a key cause of holiday depression. It’s easily triggered by “Christmas comparison’. This looks like comparing this year to other years, or comparing your life to those of people around you, who seem more loved and like they are having more fun and are simply, from your perspective, luckier.

A poll by the BBC found that 7 per cent of Brits spend Christmas alone.

But what if we don’t know why we feel low?

Always feel bad around the holidays, but don’t know why? You might have hidden beliefs that are triggered by festive cheer. For example, if something in your childhood gave you the negative belief that you don’t deserve good things, then feeling low could be your way of stopping enjoyment.

Sometimes it’s a repressed experience that ruins all our holidays, something from the past we’ve never dealt with. Perhaps as a child your parents divorced over Christmas, or one year you were naughty and your mother said you ruined Christmas.

Difficult past experiences, left unprocessed, can be buried in our unconscious mind and trigger bad moods in the present.

And if your depression starts a bit in advance of the holidays, say, around November, and goes until spring starts? It’s worth learning about seasonal affective disorder (SAD).

Is Christmas depression a big deal?

If you know you get a bit low each year but it lifts when the holidays end, it might be a case of using wellbeing tactics to manage.

But if your depression involves very dark thoughts about whether life is even worth living, or of hurting yourself or others? Then it’s very much a big deal.

If you are having intrusive thoughts, don’t hesitate to call a hotline. They run through the holidays, are confidential, and there are nice people on the other end.

Find the NHS list of charities with helplines here.

Or seek a therapist. There are many who offer sessions around the holidays.

How to navigate Christmas depression

1. Be picky about who you talk to.

If you are depressed and spending the holidays alone, and your friend having a perfect Covid Christmas bubble with her extended family calls? And you can't bear hearing her go on? You don’t have to answer.

It’s perfectly acceptable to be unavailable and prioritise yourself during a difficult time. Any real friend will understand and be there to chat with in the New Year.

2. Say no.

It's not the time of year to let your people pleasing side win. If an invite to spend the holidays with someone else’s family is something that you know will actually just make you feel worse, say no.

Each no to what you don’t really want is a yes to yourself, and means your chances of a dangerous depression are less.

3. Do a wellbeing challenge.

Instead of the 12 days of Christmas, try the 12 days of wellbeing.

Make a list of all the things that give your mood and energy a lift, no matter how big or small. Watching dogs in the park, dancing to a favourite song, painting, a hot bath.

Then get out your diary and schedule in one activity for each day. Make them non-negotiable.

Try to make at least a third of your activities physical. Exercise, even if it’s just a walk in the park or dancing around the living room, is proven to lift our moods.

And be consistent -- an analysis of all recent research on depression and exercise found that it was consistency over duration or intensity that made the real difference.

4. Forget presents, embrace presence.

Depression is in a past we decide is better than now, and a future we can’t imagine is worth it. But the present moment is usually easier.

Training our minds to just focus on what is in front of us here and now by using the tool of mindfulness has been shown by research to lower depression and anxiety.

Read our article on mindfulness meditation to get started.

4. Seek support.

Again, you don’t have to talk to people who make you feel worse. But if you are feeling really alone and horrible hiding isn’t the answer either.

Seek support on forums, call a help line, talk to someone you do like and trust, or even book a session with a therapist who is working through the holidays.

Just need someone who really understands to talk to? Book a session now with a therapist you like at a price you can afford and feel less alone.

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