You’ve probably heard that suicide rates jump over the holiday season. While researching this article, I was surprised to find that this is completely untrue. In fact, across North America, suicide rates go down during the ‘most wonderful time of the year.’ But the holiday blues are real.
Between spending money, navigating family, and overcrowding your calendar, Christmas can be a perfect storm of stress.
Olivia Scobie is a social work therapist and sees an increase in stress and the ‘blues’ around the holiday season.
“It is really normal to feel down over the holiday season for lots of reasons,” she says. “Unless you have a really strong connection with the people you are spending the holidays with, it can put a spotlight on feelings of loneliness or not belonging.
For many, they feel forced to engage with family relationships that are uncomfortable or even hostile, and parents who aren’t able to be with their children often feel quite pained. Even if you do have strong family relationships, the work of preparing the holiday celebrations can feel overwhelming and exhausting, and there is a lot of ‘hype’ leading up to holiday celebrations that gave lead to an emotional crash when it is all over.”
Here, a few tips to help you through this season:
1. Try Giving Back
My 9-year-old started a care package project last year and is continuing it this winter. We drive around the city and distribute the packages to people living on the street. After giving each gift, he talks about how good it feels to be able to help someone. As a bonus, it helps him to feel especially grateful for his lucky lot in life. Giving is one way of not only helping other people, but to helping yourself to feel good, too.
“If you are feeling lonely this holiday season, try giving back,”suggests Scobie. “You can spend your day volunteering, hosting a party for others in your community that might be lonely, or spending the day(s) doing a little extra self-care.”
2. Laugh About It
My family holiday gatherings – as many are – are complicated and messy. There are long-held grudges simmering almost audibly just beneath the ‘your house looks wonderful!’ and the ‘wow, he’s so big now!’ After years of marinating in the negative air, I looked for the humor in it. It is pure comedy gold. There’s enough material in a single event for a full stand-up routine. Not up to writing a full routine? Try Scobie’s suggestion.
“If you’re obligated to spend the holidays with relatives you have awkward relationships with, try envisioning yourself on a sitcom,” she says. “Instead of getting triggered when your sister in law makes a passive aggressive remark about your cooking skills, just see it as a plot line in your favorite sitcom with a laugh track in the background. It helps lighten a tense situation and can help you distance yourself from the situation.”
3. Get Back to Basics
There was a time in my life when I started feeling like I should be a proper grown-up – you know, the kind that sends Christmas card with pics of the kids and a cute family letter. It was also around the time when I had two very small children at home and a very demanding job, and I was burnt out.
One year, I had this wild thought and asked myself what would happen if I didn’t send Christmas cards, and I asked myself if I would be upset with someone if they didn’t send me one. Well, holy Hannah, the clouds cleared and I was free. Letting some things go is not only okay, it’s critical for your own mental health.
And, yay, Scobie is totally onboard with this:
“If you are feeling overwhelmed by the work of preparing for the holidays, go back to basics,” she says. “Does it really matter if you send cards this year to everyone? Can you order all your gifts online and have them delivered pre-wrapped? What about doing a potluck style meal? If you are finding it difficult to prioritize, then look to your community for help. And if all else fails, know it will all be over in a few weeks and set aside for recovery time for January.”
4. ‘Crash’ gently
One of my biggest triggers is a sudden change from lots of excitement to everyday life. I always crash hard after something that has held my focus for some time – say, a weekend getaway to look forward to – is over. It feels like a sudden withdrawal of joy. Besides being aware of this common trigger, try to crash gently instead of suddenly.
“If you feel sad when all the festivities are over, keep them going just a little bit longer,” suggests Scobie. “Have friends over for a ‘leftovers’ party, or make plans with family before they all leave your holiday celebration. Set up something to look forward to after the holiday’s so it doesn’t feel like you are suddenly in a void of fun.”
5. Stay present
In the chaos and busyness of the season, it is so very easy to forget that you need to take care of yourself. Who has time for that when gifts need wrapping, house needs cleaning, food needs cooking, and kids need managing? Sure, you might not have time for intense self-care, but it doesn’t have to take much.
Related: 5 Ways to Invest in Yourself at Home
“Whether you feel down before, during, or after the holidays, try and stay connected to yourself throughout those time,” says Scobie. “Ask yourself ‘what do I need right now’ or make space for sad feelings. There are a lot of expectations about how we are supposed to feel during the holidays, but give yourself permission to just feel what you feel without judgment.”