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Coping with depression at Christmas

Christmas is renowned for being a time of celebration, and whilst some people may be looking forward to having time off work or spending quality time with their families, for others the festive season can lead to depression, and if you are already fighting a battle with clinical depression or have had depression in the past, the festive season can often trigger more serious problems.

At Christmas there is an awful lot of pressure to be joyful and grateful, to exchange gifts, attend parties and family gatherings. Family relationships can be complicated at the best of times, without the added pressure of Christmas.

The festive season can often increase self-reflection as people will often compare themselves to others and think about what they don’t have. It can also evoke unhappy memories of childhood, which therefore increases feelings of depression. On the other hand people may dread Christmas due to the pressure of attending social gatherings and seeing family that they have not seen for a while. What might they think of them? Will they be judged? This can be especially true if you have recently lost your job or have separated from your spouse.

If you are already suffering from depression you may feel that there may be some stigma attached and you may find that some relatives don’t understand you, and think that your depression may just be in your head!

Many people can often feel alone at Christmas too, due to the loss of a loved one or being away from family due to work commitments or other reasons out of their control. Christmas holidays are regarded as occasions for family gatherings, but many people who do not have close family ties will experience poignant psychological pain, as reminders of the familiar aspects of the festive season bombard to them via the media.

So how can you overcome some of these feelings?

  • Firstly, if your depression is serious and you feel unable to cope on your own, seek out the professional help of your GP or a qualified therapist.

  • Set personal boundaries regarding the money spent on gifts and the number of social events

  • Be present and enjoy each moment as best you can; don’t’ give in to the ‘perfect’ representation of Christmas that the media portray. Accept that you are not perfect and that no-none else can expect you to be either

  • Focus on what you do have in your life, rather than focusing on what you don't have, for example, with a divorce comes the freedom to explore and develop your personality

  • Part of giving is allowing yourself to feel good about it rather than minimizing the importance of one’s gifts. Your psyche can work for or against you. You have the ability to control how you perceive a situation

  • Avoid excessive self-reflection and beating yourself up about things that are beyond your control

  • Take action and do interesting and fun things; Focus your thoughts on all the positive things about Christmas-the opportunity to engage in kindness and gratitude for others in your life

For those who are depressed, it's an opportunity to take action to think, feel and act in ways that break you free from the past.

Finally, remember that the festive season is a time when you have the opportunity to give and to grow, not just to fend off a sense of loss/depression. The Christmas tree lights will be as bright or as dim as you choose to make them.

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