While the holiday season brings sentiments of joy and celebration for some, for others it is a time of isolation and an increase in feelings of depression and negative thoughts. In fact, numerous studies as well as anecdotal evidence from distress centres and crisis workers confirm that there is an increase in both the number and severity of calls by depressed individuals during the holiday season.
This is a period of frenetic activity, a time when people are trying to juggle work, an increase in social obligations, shopping, decorating, wrapping, entertaining and staying on budget. All this leads to a rise in both physical and emotional stress.
This is also a time of reflection, as the year nears its end. A time when others look back and see the losses they incurred — loss of a loved one through death, divorce or separation, loss of a job, or even loss of familiar social environment (as in having moved away from home).
"The holidays also bring about unrealistic conceptualizations of the ideal family, evoking feelings that may heighten the tension or conflicts between family members," explains MUHC psychologist Dr. Michael Spevack. "Overeating and overdrinking combined with a decreased amount of sleep is also a formula for extreme emotional swings — feelings of elation followed 12 hours later by a transient drop in mood," explains Spevack.
"Feelings of depression can become extreme — to thoughts of suicide. Especially at risk are people who are socially isolated," adds Spevack. He offers the following suggestions for coping with the demands of the holidays:
- If you are feeling depressed, surround yourself with positive people who make you feel hopeful and give you encouragement.
- Keep things simple, give only what you can afford.
- If you are alone or far away from family and friends, then join a local volunteer group that brings holiday cheers to others. You will help yourself and others this way.
For those who enjoy the excitement and energy of the holidays, be aware of those who may have gone through some difficult changes in the past year and, in the true spirit of the season, invite them to celebrate with you, and remind them that there is hope.