Maybe the Grinch didn’t really hate the holidays but instead, he was just suffering from a bout of depression. Unfortunately for some, this is not the most wonderful time of the year. For those who suffer from on-going depression, the increased jovial attitudes of those around them can stand in stark contrast to what they are used to feeling. Others may simply experience seasonal blues.
The reality is that suicides rates are actually lower during this season because, for those who suffer from year round depression, the increase in social contact and support, usually associated with the season, can delay self-injurious behavior. This doesn’t mean that everyone’s spirits are high but there can be many distractions from negative feelings around the holidays.
Clinicians need to be mindful of this because just like a winter thaw, as springtime approaches we begin to see an increase in energy and this can actually lead to higher suicides rates. Nevertheless, there are those who are fairly content throughout the year and begin to feel low as the weather chills and the holidays approach.
There are several reasons people can feel down at this time of the year. Similar to the Grinch, childhood memories of the holidays may serve as a reminder of unhappy days or early family strife. The inverse can also be true, whereby a happy childhood is a reminder of better times; if one’s adult life is filled with struggle or discontent.
During this time of the year financial stress can be intense with the increased expectation of gifting, which contributes to the fact that people tend to wrack up bills that they wouldn’t necessarily incur during other months. Schedules get busy and I often hear from my clients that they can’t wait until the holidays are over so they can slow down and relax.
All of these factors combined can be a formula for stress and depression. The fact is that this is an annual occurrence. The holidays come around each year and some people start to dread their arrival by the end of summer. This doesn’t have to be the case.
If this describes how you feel, as Thanksgiving approaches and holiday decorations start to appear, then there are some things you can do to reinvent the season for yourself. To start with, lower your expectations. This is a trap many people fall into, especially on New Year’s Eve. Consider these days like any other and stick to your normal routine. If you are plagued by holidays past then share those memories with a partner, a friend or a therapist and recognize that you have an opportunity to create a new story.
If you have children, keep in mind that it is the simplest things that will bring them joy and there is no need for elaborate events or extravagant gifts, just meaningful ones. Standards and expectations are set early for children so if you constantly over do it in the gift department then appreciation will likely be low.
If you are single, reach out to friends and loved ones so that you are not alone. There is a tendency to isolate during this time of the year and that is never a good thing for depression. Accept social invitations even when your inclination is to decline. Whether on your own or with your family, a great way to increase your morale is to offer your help to those in need. Non-profit agencies have a number of opportunities at this time of year for volunteers. Being of service to others is always a natural mood elevator.
Lastly, plan ahead. If year after year you experience the same sadness around the holidays then vow to make a change. Talk to a counselor and create ways to combat the winter blues. Come up with coping strategies that you can access yearly that may help you not only avoid being depressed but could possibly result in a new found ability to actually enjoy the season.
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