Surviving the Christmas Blues
by online counsellor Beth Mares

Tips for people who suffer from depression during and immediately after the Holiday season.

Some of the depression found at this time of year is caused by a physiological reaction some people have to low levels of light. If you experience depression every year at this time for no apparent reason, have your doctor check you for Seasonal Affective Disorder (or check it for yourself on the internet). Light treatments are a well established treatment; you can get a lamp at some Shoppers Drug Marts, or more inexpensively on the internet. Anti-depressants can also work, but of course they have side effects and some can be difficult to get off.

If your Christmas depression is caused by having grown up in a family that did not celebrate Christmas surrounded by families that did, and feeling left out--it might help to share your experiences with others who grew up in the same situation.

If you feel sad at Christmas time, do not try to force your feelings to go away, and do not let well-meaning friends or relatives talk you out of them. You are probably feeling grief, whether it is about something in the present--e.g, your ex has the kids this year--or a childhood experience that you might not even remember, such as Christmas being spoiled because your parents were mad at each other. If you bury grief instead of fully feeling it, it just stays inside you, preventing you from experiencing good feelings.

If you are depressed because you do not have a family, you have stopped seeing your family, or they are far away, do not put yourself down for being "different". In to-day's urbanized world, many people are in the same situation. Some are feeling lonely, while others are having a good time with people they have chosen to be with. If all your friends have families, you might think about how to get to know people who don't.

If your family gets you down but you have chosen to be with them for the Holidays anyway, go for damage control. If possible, limit the amount of time you spend with them and have an escape route in case things start getting really uncomfortable. For example, take your own car instead of having to wait till somebody else is ready to leave, and plan ahead how you will take a short break alone if you find yourself unable to think clearly--e.g., go for a walk, or even just to the washroom. If you have a support system independent of your family, use it; if not, make a New Year's resolution to start building one.


Watch out for January. Sometimes Christmas depression appears after Christmas or gets worse then. If your depression becomes so severe that you are afraid you might do something dangerous, phone a distress centre (listed on the inside cover of your phone book) or go to the emergency department of the nearest hospital.

If you already know all this and you are still depressed, seek professional help. Nearly all depression responds well to appropriate psychotherapy, and many people have found anti-depressants prescribed by their family doctors helpful as well. Remember also that regular exercise is very important for keeping depression at bay, and the fact that some people find it hard to get it during the winter months may be part of the reason for the spike in depression at that time.

Depression can be treated and it can be beaten.


Beth Mares does online counselling for depression & family relationships across Canada


Copyright © 1996 Beth Mares