A Catholic Monthly Magazine

Blue Christmas

By Victor M

Tips for Dealing with Holiday Sadness

Though the December holiday season inspires feelings of warmth, belonging, connection and joy for many people, there are others for whom the month is one of increased stress, sadness, anxiety, loneliness and depression. Their experience is called a ‘blue’ Christmas, something described by the Urban Dictionary this way: “It means to have a sad Christmas, perhaps because you are away from family or alone, or even filled with thoughts of a happier time that brings tears to your eye. Blue is a symbolic colour for the emotion sad”.

While there is no single reason why many experience holiday depression, the month does seem to contain these triggers for sadness: family conflict and dysfunction, heightened feelings of loneliness, additional expense, travel, unrealistic happiness expectations, changes in diet …

Here are ten tips for dealing with holiday sadness.

1) Plan ahead

Rather than stumble into December and be manipulated by the events and pressures of the month, pause and plan for the best way to be engaged with holiday festivities. Conduct an examination of your feelings and thoughts by asking these types of questions:

    Who do I want to be with?

    Do I need to be at this event?

    Which person(s) would be best kept at a distance?

    How much money is realistic for me to spend?

    Which gatherings do I truly wish to participate in?

    What steps can I take to maintain balance this month?

    Do I really need to travel this long distance to be with family and friends?

Raising and responding to these types of inquiries will create holiday clarity and guide you to experience the month in a way which is most beneficial. Establishing your boundaries will empower you to respond skillfully to any individual who protests or challenges your decision, saying, “of course you’ll be there!”

2) Be mindful

“The way to stop perpetuating the habits that cause us unnecessary suffering is to bring mindfulness and awareness to all aspects of our lives”, says writer Karen Kissel Wegela. Try to anticipate which persons and what events may bring out the negative. Cultivating mindfulness and awareness can help ease potential tensions. Dr. Deborah Serani, a psychologist, offers this insight: “Family conflicts can resurface during the holiday season. Try to avoid falling into old behavioural patterns with others. Be creative with seating, or invite people to different occasions at different times”.

3) Have an exit strategy

There may be some events you have interest in attending but hesitate because you are not sure if the participation will be pleasant or unpleasant. Consider giving it a try, but have an exit strategy. For example, you could plan to go late, attend with a good friend, or give reasons to leave a party early, such as your need for a good night’s sleep.

4) Balance the social with solitude

December provides heightened opportunities for spending time with family, friends, neighbours, and colleagues. For that reason, it’s vital to make time just for yourself. In her book, Live Lagom: Balanced Living the Swedish Way, Anna Brones observes: “Solitude allows us space to think, to reflect, to unwind, to avoid outer influences. In our ever-connected world, we are rarely alone, and when we are, it can be easy to do things that keep us social, like emailing and texting ... do something that allows you to tune out the rest of the world. Give yourself the space for solitude”.

5) Practice self-care

Here are the two huge reasons why self-care is especially important in December. First, the month is filled with more than normal social obligations. Those often lead to over-eating and over-drinking. Secondly, there are many additional year-end work and home responsibilities. The very routines that keep you healthy and happy can easily drift away, increasing your levels of anxiety, stress and sadness. Psychiatrist Mark Sichel, author of Healing From Family Rifts, advises, “Do your regular routines of exercise and whatever keeps you together during the year”. As much as possible, maintain your diet, schedule and routine. Be intentional and careful about how much you will eat or drink at parties. Make sure you get enough sleep. Waking up tired every day will only add to your fatigue, reduce your energy level and lower your resistance to getting sick.

6) Volunteer

Considered a year-round ‘mood booster’, giving of your time and talents to help others is a highly recommended technique for displacing holiday sadness. “Volunteering will help you feel connected to others and stave off loneliness and depression. It boosts your self-esteem and takes the focus off of your own problems”, says Dr. Michael Craig Miller, assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. Volunteering is associated with lower blood pressure, greater well-being, and a longer life.

Some creative volunteering opportunities include providing child care for a family member or friend, offering driving services to a person undergoing hospital treatment, and running errands for a neighbour who is house-bound.

7) Limit access to social media

Research shows that the more social media you use, the more likely you are to suffer from anxiety or depression. The University of Pittsburgh Center for Research on Media, Technology and Health, conducted a study of more than 1,700 millennial adults. Their results showed that people using seven to eleven social media platforms had more than three times the risk of depression or anxiety than millennials who used just zero to two networks. Comparing oneself with others is one likely reason why social media can produce dissatisfaction with one’s life. We see posts of individuals at their best: the way they look, their exotic travels, and so on, and then we compare the reality of our lives to their ideal presentations. This generates anxiety, sadness and depression. Maintain your mental health by limiting social media access or even taking a break from it during holidays.

8) Reduce holiday travel stressors

December is the month when most people travel. Delays, crowded airports and roads, and bad weather can, and do, increase anxiety. Some ways of anticipating and reducing holiday travel issues include:

    making a list of what you need to pack so you don’t lose sleep the night before worrying about forgetting something;

    travelling during off-peak hours and days if possible;

    anticipating and accepting delays;

    leaving much earlier than you need to, to give yourself plenty of time, -- running late is a huge travel stressor.

9) Engage in spiritual practices to restore your spirit

Give yourself quality quiet time for prayer, meditation, or reading which inspires you and feeds your spirit. A good prayer is one by the French Catholic mystic Francois Fenelon (1651-1715), who suffered from seasons of sadness: “My strength fails; I feel only weakness, irritation and depression. I am tempted to complain and to despair. What has become of the courage I was so proud of, and that gave me so much self-confidence? . . . Lord, destroy my pride; leave it no resource. How happy I shall be if you can teach me by these terrible trials, that I am nothing, that I can do nothing and that you are all!”

Maintaining spiritual strength will stop you from becoming easily upset by events and people, and will prevent your mind from magnifying small issues into major tensions. You can’t control and prevent unpleasant experiences from arising, but you can control how you respond.

10) Keep expectations balanced and realistic

Author and therapist Dr. Barton Goldsmith, offers this holiday reminder: “You won’t get everything you want, things will go wrong, and you won’t feel like Bing Crosby singing White Christmas. Remember that everything doesn’t have to be perfect and don’t worry about things that are out of your control”. Avoid striving for and expecting perfection. Instead, cultivate acceptance.

Finally, honour and accept your feelings as they emerge during December, but don’t allow them to drive you deeply into hopelessness and despair. Manage your feelings rather than have them manage you.

By doing that, you will keep the door of your life open for joy which comes your way and joy that you can bring to others.

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