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Dealing with depression and loneliness during Christmas

Christmas comes with high expectations of perfect, happy families enjoying luxurious celebrations and gifts, but not all of us are able to live up to these ideals. For those who have recently lost a loved one, Christmas can intensify feelings of grief and sadness. Many others experience feelings of isolation, financial pressures or increased family conflict that make the season a very stressful time of year. In particular, elderly Australians are even more susceptible to feelings of sadness and isolation.

Why people get depressed at Christmas

Some people get depressed at Christmas because of the excessive commercialisation of the season, with the focus on gifts and the emphasis on "perfect" social activities. Others get depressed because Christmas appears to be a trigger to engage in excessive self-reflection and rumination about the inadequacies of life (and a "victim” mentality) in comparison to other people who seem to have more and do more. Others become anxious at   Christmas because of the pressure (both commercial and self-induced) to spend a lot of money on gifts and incur increasing debt. Others report that they dread Christmas because of the expectations of social gatherings with family, friends and acquaintances that they'd rather not spend time with. And finally, many people feel very lonely at Christmas because they have suffered the loss of loved ones or their jobs. Fortunately, there are certain steps that can be taken to manage stress and anxiety during the festive period.
Taking care of money worries
Is the festive season a burden on your wallet? Here are some tips for managing your Christmas finances and reducing your silly season stress:
  • Identify what’s causing you financial stress. Buying gifts and attending social events can be expensive. Plan ways to reduce spending. For example, you could suggest to your family and friends that you only buy gifts for kids, or organise a ‘Secret Santa’ for the adults. Set a budget and stick to it.
  • Find low cost ways to have fun. Don’t let money cut you off from your family and friends. If you can’t afford expensive restaurant meals or cocktail catch-ups, organise a BBQ in the park or a party at home where everyone brings a plate of food.
Dealing with family tension
Just because you’re related doesn’t mean your family members will all get along. Split families and unresolved conflicts may contribute to Christmas anxiety. Family and relationship problems can be a trigger for anxiety. Here are some ideas for getting through:
  • Set realistic expectations. Christmas might not be the fabulous family reunion you hoped for. Plan how you will manage any feelings of anxiety or depression that may arise.
  • Put the kids first. If you have children, consider putting aside ongoing adult conflicts in their interest. Think about Christmas as a day for the kids and focus on enabling their happiness.
  • Drink in moderation. It may be tempting to drink too much during the festive period, but alcohol can contribute to stress, anxiety and depression. Alcohol may be a problem if you’re drinking to cope.
  • Avoid known triggers. If your family has a history of arguing over a certain topic, don’t bring it up.
Managing loneliness

There are ways to overcome loneliness if you find yourself isolated or grieving a loved one during Christmas:
Connect with friends and family. Even if you’re separated by distance, you can stay in touch with loved ones online or by phone.
Volunteer. Why not lend a hand to a local shelter over Christmas? There are lots of charities who need help. You’ll connect with people and feel good about making a positive contribution.
Attend community events. Find out what’s on locally and get involved. Whether it is Christmas carols or local markets, getting out and about can help relieve loneliness.
Make plans for Christmas Day. Develop a plan in advance to avoid feeling depressed or stressed on the day. Perhaps make yourself a special breakfast, buy yourself a gift in advance to enjoy on the day, attend a local church service or take a stroll through the local park where you can watch families enjoying their Christmas presents.
Staying healthy 

Recognising and changing behaviours that contribute to your stress will help you get through the Christmas period. Remember to stay healthy - eating well, exercising and getting enough sleep can help you cope with Christmas stress. For those of us who don't have difficulties at this time of year, it's an opportunity to reach out to those who become depressed. For those who are depressed or lonely, it's an opportunity to take action to think, feel and act in ways that breaks free from the past. There are many free services available that offer mental health support at any time of year, such as Lifeline, who can be reached on 13 11 14. If your symptoms of stress, anxiety or depression are severe or long lasting, see a doctor who can provide some guidance and treatment options.

Jack – ADAVIC Volunteer

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