Contrary to the stereotypical view of Christmas being a time of relaxation and joy, for many individuals, it is one of the most stressful and difficult annual events. As a practicing psychiatrist, no one is more aware of the the ill effects of the pre-Christmas build-up than Dr. Ian Drever. Each year, during this time of the year, his clinics are filled with people suffering from Christmas depression. But what causes it and how can we prevent it?
What are common Christmas depression symptoms? Typically, ‘Christmas stress’ presents as a range of depressive and anxious features - people often report feeling increasingly burdened, and with a sense of dread around the impending holiday. Sleep is typically impaired, mood may be lower, memory and concentration affected, and there is also generally a sense of being increasingly irritable, tearful and ‘on a short fuse’.
What causes Christmas stress and anxiety? For many people, one word can sum it up: expectations. Expectations as to what we think Christmas should be. As a society, we have been conditioned to think that Christmas should be perfect and magical, with an abundance of food, gifts and the like. All of that places a huge burden on many of us to think that we must deliver the dream – and if we don’t, then we have failed. All nonsense, of course, particularly given the fact that many of our images of the ‘perfect Christmas’ are nothing more than fantasies dreamed up by a marketing agency. Yet millions of us feel compelled to do it; the shopping, the preparation, the food. And then there’s Christmas day itself – it’s always difficult to socialise with extended family who we probably haven’t seen for a long time and may not particularly get on with, particularly when we’re often in close confines for a day or two.
What can we do to reduce Christmas stress? We are all entitled to change what doesn’t work for us. If Christmas doesn’t work, if it causes distress or upset, then it’s time to change how we do it. Start by changing the expectations of those around us, in small but meaningful ways. For instance; ‘This year, we won’t be doing a big Christmas meal – we’ll be having something much smaller and more simple, or will be going out to a hotel so that there’s nothing to prepare.’ Or ‘This year, we won’t be sending cards, and will be making a donation to a charity instead’…’This year, we won’t be having anyone to stay with us, and will catch up with them in the new year, in a more leisurely way’. And for those aspects of Christmas which we do intend to keep, planning in advance and keeping it realistic and achievable are vital. Build in some down-time for yourself, too, so that if things do get busy, there’s still the ability to pull back and recharge.
What type of people typically suffer holiday meltdowns? It’s generally the same sort of people who are prone to stress in other aspects of daily life: the strivers, achievers, perfectionists, people who want to please others and who have a tendency to take on a bit too much, for fear of what will happen if they say ‘no’…
How can holiday stress management help those with Christmas anxiety? Stepping back from the pressures of life and coming into a safe ‘cocoon’ to rest and learn a range of expert techniques to manage stress is always a good thing. For many people, it’s a wonderful opportunity to take stock of where they’re at in their lives, to look at what’s important to them, and to draw up plans for a more meaningful and positive future. At the hospital where I practice, we are open throughout the year, helping people with stress of whatever cause. We often welcome people in throughout the holiday period; it can be a great relief to start the new year off on a positive note. And for those who choose not to stay with us, there is always the indulgent option of bespoke psychological treatment, based at a luxury hotel, as part of our Concierge Care service.
For more information about the exclusive Concierge Care service and bespoke depression, stress and anxiety treatments visit Drever Associates website