Stress and anxiety

The not-so-festive season

The not-so-festive season.

For some the food, family and festivities of Christmas can be the loneliest and most miserable time of the year. People who are on their own feel more alone than ever and the financial strain on those who are less advantaged can be immense.

According to Johannesburg psychologist, Colinde Linda, there are those who dread this time of the year and the incidence of depression, as well as suicide, is very high. “The people I’m referring to are those who’ve had a recent loss – like a death or children who have emigrated, even those without a support network of family and friends. These people often rely on work to provide them with company, so December holidays are a time of isolation and loneliness.”

Even for those who are not alone, Christmas can be a painful period. Not all families are happy –there may be old disputes or rifts, and there may even have been abuse. In these cases Christmas can be a reminder of these hurtful memories. For others, with more difficult families, being forced to spend time with relatives whom they dislike, and having to be jolly and make conversation with people with whom they have nothing in common, can create vast amounts of tension and stress.

For some the food, family and festivities of Christmas can be the loneliest and most miserable time of the year. People who are on their own feel more alone than ever and the financial strain can be immense.

All this anxiety can lead to depression, and for depressed people, who already find it difficult to socialise and to experience any joy in company, Christmas can be an especially trying time, and they may feel more isolated.

The expense of Christmas and the pressure to spend more than one can afford on gifts and expensive food and drink can be another severe burden. The debts incurred and the feelings of guilt that surround this holiday period can lead to more anxiety.

To cope with this Christmas stress, many people turn to food, over-the-counter medications, or drink too much to try to feel more cheerful, using alcohol as a form of self-medication. It is important to remember that the initial euphoria and sociability soon disappears, and the combination of lowered inhibitions, old resentments and alcohol can lead to quarrels and injured feelings. Linda states: “It [drinking] is a quick-fix, so when you’re sober again you have the side effects of drinking –dehydration, slowed mental processes, nausea and depression. Alcohol also interferes with sleep, especially in that you don’t dream when drunk – which is very unhealthy for the brain.” The prolonged use of excessive amounts of alcohol aggravates depression.

To cope throughout this time of turmoil, it is best to be prepared and to plan your Christmas. There are a few tips to survive the festive season:

Difficult relatives

If the problem is that you have relatives that you don’t get on with, plan to spend only a short while with them. Perhaps plan a vacation for which you leave on Boxing Day. This also applies if you have relatives that tend to outstay their welcome – plan a holiday to get away from the house on time.

Money

Don't spend more than you can afford. The spirit of Christmas is not found in expensive gifts and extravagant foods. The debts you incur are likely to cause an anxious beginning to the New Year. Rather leave some money for later.

Alcohol

Remember that alcohol is essentially a depressant. Excessive amounts will not help you cope and could worsen the situation.

Loneliness

  • There are a number of options to choose from to make your Christmas bearable if you are alone:
  •  Find out in advance if there are any local get-togethers and plan to go
  • Telephone friends and family
  • Plan small treats for yourself
  • Put your feet up and enjoy the festivities on the TV and radio
  • Try taking a cheap holiday; be in new surroundings
  • Spend the time in as unChristmassy a way as possible, spring-cleaning, gardening or DIY

There are people who are willing to listen and help. Trained telephone counsellors at the Depression and Anxiety Support Group can be contacted between 8am and 8pm, Monday to Friday, and between 8am and 1pm on Saturdays. The numbers are (011) 7831474/6 or (011) 884 1797. They are open over Christmas and New Year.