The holidays are here and it’s the happiest time of the year! Except the holiday season is also known for higher rates of depression and suicide. This seems like conflicting information during this time of year, but it’s pretty accurate. However, few people stop to think about what influences these statistics. Here are some ideas that may be contributing to the phenomenon.
Society and media play a huge part in projecting an image that the holidays are supposed to be perfect, joyous and everyone can sit around sipping egg nog with giant smiles. The movies on TV always have a happy ending, everyone always finds the true meaning of the season, and there is always snow outside and a roaring fire in the hearth. These images create unrealistic expectations that few can achieve. For some they create feelings of anger over the commercialization of the season. Others feel overwhelmed because they assume others expect them to meet these unrealistic standards of playing host, and providing elaborate gifts.
Gone are the days when the holidays were religious celebrations, when Christmas meant a gift or two and some socks that Aunt Clara made for you, or when Hanukkah was remembering to give thanks. Now, children expect to get everything they want and parents are afraid to disappoint them. The pressure to spend obscene amounts of money during the holiday season continues to grow. The holiday season also means people will be expected to spend more time with their family regardless of if they get along with one another or not. These expectations can be overwhelming, and in fact they are for most people.
When expectations are set high there is a huge risk for disappointment and let down. We think we are supposed to spend time with the family having mom singing in the kitchen while she prepares dinner, the children crowded around the TV or their toys, and the adults relaxing on the couch watching something on the Hallmark channel. Any diversion from this alternate universe leads to disappointment at some level.
Perhaps these unmet expectations are the final straw in an accumulative development of depression, or perhaps it’s the accumulative nature of each passing year but the holidays consistently show an increase in depression and suicide when compared to other times of the year. Perhaps it coincides with seasonal affective disorder, either way the connection is not crystal clear. However, there is hope to getting through the holiday season. Here are a few suggestions:
- Remind yourself that commercialization of the season is just a marketing technique. You do not need to succumb to these advertising tactics.
- Set a budget for Holiday spending and stick to it. If you feel guilty about not spending as lavishly as your friends, just explain you’re trying to focus on the meaning of the season and won’t get caught up in the shopping rush.
- Focus on the positive aspects of your life, and don’t compare yourself to others or try to recreate images seen in the media.
- Remember that it is the season for giving, so give your time to a local charity. Giving back to your community is rewarding and fulfilling.
- Be realistic. You don’t have to attend every party, or commit to everything. You are one individual and can do the work of one individual. Besides if you are stressed out, tired and run down you’re not going to be helpful or joyful anyway.
- Limit your intake of alcohol during the holidays. This helps advert feelings of depression.
- Remember that if your depression worsens, reach out for help through the suicide hotline (800) 273-8255.