Christmas bliss and blues

With the Christmas season upon us ‒ and the wintery weather to match ‒ it is tempting to think that this is the one time of year when everyone is joyful and happy about the coming Christmas holidays. And while this is indeed the case for the vast majority of us, there are many people for whom Christmas is a time of profound sadness, loneliness and despondency.

We all think of Christmas as the time when we celebrate with family and friends, exchange gifts and enjoy delicious food, drinks and desserts. One of the most important aspects of this season is the companionship and company we share with loved ones. And yet this is exactly what many people dread about the Christmas holidays – being unable to spend them with a loved one. Whether this is because that person has recently passed away, or is absent from the country, or is incapacitated by a disease or an accident, many people see the upcoming period as one of sadness, loneliness or even grief, especially when it is the first time that they will spend Christmas without that person. The hardest and most heartrending of such experiences must surely be having to go through the Christmas period following the loss of a child. One can only imagine the pain and grief families facing such a tragedy must be feeling during this time.

However, there are also many people who dread this season precisely because they have to spend it with family. Not all family relations are harmonious or pleasant, and in instances where someone has suffered abuse from a relative, spending Christmas in their company can lead to feelings of severe anxiety and angst. Other causes of dread and stress associated with Christmas include the sheer amount of cooking, gift-buying and overall preparation that is often involved, not to mention the financial strain that this can put on a person’s or family’s finances. So, as we can see, as beautiful a time of year as Christmas is, it can also be a period of strain and depression for many. Especially this year, with so many children having been killed in wars in the Middle East and eastern Europe, it is important to reflect on all the suffering that exists in the world and spare a thought and a prayer for those for whom Christmas will not be a time of joy and happiness.

In my practice – and personal experience ‒ I have seen how people’s mental health can deteriorate quite significantly around this time of year. I therefore recommend that everyone, regardless of their particular circumstances, spend some time focusing on and nourishing their mental health. It’s important to be kind, gentle and patient with yourself and prioritise what you need, as well as to set boundaries and say no to things that aren’t conducive to your wellbeing. Moreover, it can be helpful to let people know that you’re struggling and to tell them what they can do to support you and what not to do; and remember that you don’t have to justify yourself. We each may see things in a different way and that’s okay. Some people find that meditating, taking a walk or escaping with a good book or movie helps them get through the festive season. Find the self-care strategy that works for you so you are in a better position to step back from the noise, worry and stress that this period may bring.

Christmas is the time when many celebrate the birth of Jesus, whose messages of love, selflessness and service to others are as timeless today as they ever were, whatever religion or spiritual practice you follow. Underneath these beautiful messages is the fundamental message of hope ‒ hope for a better world, for a better human condition, and for happiness built on the right foundations. I wish everyone who is looking towards the Christmas period with ambivalence or dread the strength and courage they will undoubtedly need and wish that they find the genuine happiness which hope and love can bring.

If you are struggling this Christmas and need some support for your mental health, please reach out by:

Calling the Samaritans on 116 123 (freephone). Their English language line is always open. They have a Welsh language line too, which is open daily from 7pm to 11pm.

Texting SHOUT to 85258. This is a free 24/7 crisis text service run by Shout.

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