When It’s NOT the Most Wonderful Time of the Year
The pressure is everywhere. Television, stores, newspapers, friends- you can’t escape the message that you’re supposed to be enthralled with the holiday season. One of the classic songs of the season insists repeatedly that you believe “It’s the most wonderful time of the year.” But what if you feel like the green-hued Grinch before his transformation and you’re counting the days down until December 26, when you can take the plastered fake smile off your face? Despite the façade presented, not everyone enjoys the holidays. The myth that suicide increases during the holiday season is not true but stress, anxiety, loneliness and depression can increase during this time.
Social isolation is felt more deeply during this time; even if it’s self-imposed, it may feel less comfortable as you imagine everyone else at parties and gathered with family, Norman Rockwell-style around the festive table. Social media has magnified the feeling of being left out as people present the highlights of their lives, leaving many of us feeling our own lives paling in contrast. Comparison is the thief of joy. If you’re feeling lonely, it’s difficult to reach out, but it can help to be with others, volunteer to deliver meals to seniors or work at a shelter. Call a friend and make plans to get out at least once during the holidays.
Grief– Facing the first holiday season after the loss of a loved one can be especially difficult. Grief is a process individuals deal with in different ways, and each person must figure out what works best for them. An extrovert may deal best by immersing themselves in social situations, whereas an introvert may deal better with quiet, comforting rituals. The first season without a loved one may be a good time to start a new tradition, go on a vacation during the holidays or simply switch things up, such as going out instead of cooking at home. The first Christmas after my mom died, we started a new tradition of going out for Indian food on Christmas day; it took the focus off missing her (and her gravy and pies) just a bit.
Financial pressures– It may be better to give than to receive, but all the giving during December can lead to major financial strain. Simplify wherever you can. I’ve made a deal with all my close friends that we will not buy one another gifts but instead we will reserve time to go to dinner together in January. If you must give gifts and you’re feeling the financial pinch, make loaves of banana bread or Christmas cookies. When I was a teacher, the gift I looked forward to every year was the peanut butter fudge one of the parents made! Parents feel pressure to buy, buy, buy for their children, but it’s perfectly acceptable, maybe even preferable, to take the emphasis off material possessions and embrace the idea of the “three gift Christmas.” Make a pact to not go into debt for presents.
Family Dynamics– It has taken me most of my life to fully understand that almost no one has the perfect family. Family struggles and personality conflicts can be magnified during the holidays. Remember to stay away from volatile issues during family get-togethers. Religion, politics and unresolved family conflicts should be topics that are avoided during the holidays. If contact with family causes depression or elevated stress, it’s sometimes preferable to avoid contact.
Depression– Depression is an illness that seems to be exacerbated during the holidays, but contrary to myths, the suicide rate is not higher in December. Suicide rates tend to peak in the Spring and Summer, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t always be on the lookout for warning signs:
- Prolonged sadness or unexplained crying spells
- Significant changes in appetite and sleep patterns
- Irritability, anger, worry, agitation, anxiety
- Pessimism, indifference
- Loss of energy, persistent lethargy
- Feelings of guilt, worthlessness
- Inability to concentrate, indecisiveness
- Inability to take pleasure in former interests, social withdrawal
- Unexplained aches and pains
- Recurring thoughts of death or suicide
S.A.D.– Seasonal Affective Disorder is a form of depression that occurs during the winter months. It affects four times more women than men, with the first onset usually between he ages of eighteen and thirty. If you’re feeling sad, tired, hopeless, having trouble sleeping, changes in appetite or thoughts of suicide, it’s vitally important to get help immediately. If it is determined that you have Seasonal Affective Disorder there is treatment available in the form of light therapy, Vitamin D supplements, exercise and possibly anti-depressants.
If you’re feeling depressed, don’t be afraid to speak to your doctor, call a counselor or, if you are contemplating suicide, seek immediate help. Being depressed isn’t a sign of weakness; asking for help is a sign of strength. Here are a few resources that might be of assistance:
National Suicide Prevention Hotline– 1-800-273-8255
The Crisis Text Line– If you prefer texting, you may text 741741 if you are depressed or suicidal and someone will text back immediately.
Mental Health Association in Tulsa – https://mhaok.org/, 918-585 1213
Tristesse Grief Center– Offers many support groups to assist with the grieving process. 918-587-1200 https://www.thegriefcenter.org/