There is a usual chain of thoughts that appears in everybody’s mind as soon as December starts here in the UK.
December means cold, darkness, pubs, drinking, happiness, friends, family, food, more drinking, holidays, Christmas, flights, home.
Depending on where you come from or your life experiences, your personal train of thoughts can be slightly different or have little in common with the one I have proposed above, but some of the words I have mentioned will be present in your mind: Family and Happiness.
Not necessarily in a good way.
These words should evoke positive feelings, or at least this is what society expects for everybody to happen. Reality tells us that there is instead a great increase of people reporting feeling depressed or anxious as the festive season approaches. You might find yourself thinking about starting psychotherapy, and for a good reason.
Part of the explanation lies in the huge strive for all perfect things that have to be part of the experience: the perfect gift, the perfect party, the perfect gathering with friends, the perfect end and/or perfect begin of the year. These things, either self-induced or born out of society pressures, make life very difficult for the ones who are struggling with challenging situations. They are much more than you might think.
The loss of a job, or not having the proper one, missing family and friends, feeling isolated and alone in dealing with problems, financial issues, remembering the death of somebody are all factors that might send your mood in a dangerous downward spiral. Especially for those who have lost a dear person, the emptiness a loss leaves behind will be much more emotionally evident. Finding yourself looking at pictures, remembering usual phrases, favourite dishes or missing rituals can be deeply painful. It really does not matter how much time has passed, there is always a part of us unable to understand time.
While for some people this might trigger stress, for others anger and depressive states get to the surface, especially when loneliness is part of every day’s experience. December seems to be triggering self-reflection in many people, ruthlessly called rumination by some, which can easily target life’s inadequacies.
If you find yourself having troubles sleeping or waking up, eating more or less, feeling fatigued by all the things you have to “get right” before the end of the year, you might want to consider following these 5 tips:
1. Resize your expectations
Regardless of whether you stay in the UK or reach your family, you cannot make everybody happy. Christmas, as life, is not like one of these amazing cards you can find on sale in shops. Just take it as it is, with its joy and sadness.
2. Focus on what is important
Spending your energy chasing perfection is a perfect recipe to come short and missing out. Who cares what Christmas’ traditions dictate? So what if you cannot find the right gift for that friend? Give yourself a break! Stressing yourself about these things will only put yourself down. Is this what Christmas is about?
3. Reach out your support system
We all need somebody else to cope with life. A friend, a family, a group. Break the barrier and make that phone call, send that email or ask to meet up. Being alone will only reinforce your depression and anxiety, your belief of being useless or bad. Try to keep the balance asking for help.
4. It does not have to be that bad!
Expecting catastrophe will just make you have awful experiences. Your brain can easily trick you through what is called selective attention: when you expect bad things to come, you will never see the good ones. What if this time everything will be different?
5. Time for a change?
December and Traditions are two terms with thousands of years of history between them. If you are dreading something about the usual festive drill, something you really do not want to do, what if you just don’t do it? What if you make it more OK? Nothing major, but you deserve to enjoy life.
If you want to know more about the biochemistry involved, please visit PhD Student Alessandra Donato’s blog.
If your mood is putting you down so much that you feel hopeless, or that nothing will work for you, please consider seeking professional help. Psychotherapy might be more helpful than you think, it is really not a shame to feel how you feel.
Nobody has to be alone, even less in such a difficult month as December.