I am a mom of two awesome children who teach me more than I ever thought possible. I love writing, exercise, movies, and LGBT advocacy.
Yes, Virginia, There Is Seasonal Depression
For Some, The Holidays Are The Toughest
Here we are. Already it's December 3, and Christmas and the end of 2019 are fast approaching. My kids - and kids who observe the tradition - have opened their Advent calendars, happy that I surprised them by purchasing Star Wars and Harry Potter Lego calendars this year. Many families have their trees up already or are planning on hitting local tree farms or other places where you can purchase fresh Christmas trees. Plans are already afoot for holidays, whether to a beloved family member or friend's house or to warmer climes, and the uptick in energy around you is palpable.
If one were to follow the media, as I do, this should be the "most wonderful time of the year," right? After all, we're told by the endless stream of Christmas classics, advertisements and holiday films that Christmas is a magical time and everything should be absolutely wonderful.
Not so fast.
A few years ago, I was quite surprised to learn that for some, the holiday season can be absolutely devastating. I suppose in many respects, this makes sense; beloved family members do pass on, for instance, and that first Christmas (or other holiday observance) can be incredibly tough. I remember my first Christmas as a new mom, 15-odd years ago. I was living five hours away from my parents, and so my husband and I grabbed our aircraft carrier's worth of stuff you need for a new baby and made the journey to my parents' house in Alberta. It was my family's first Christmas without my mother, you see, and while I can't speak for my other family members, I did view the occasion with a degree of trepidation. My mother loved Christmas, and I was going through the unusual double whammy of my first Christmas being a mom and my first Christmas without my mother. It was challenging to say the least, but it was survivable. It probably helped that I had the distraction of my then-two-month-old daughter, as well, but I was by no means alone in those moments of grief and wistfulness that can hit during the holidays.
Imagine the people who are going through their first Christmas without their partner, whether their family unit has broken up or the partner has passed on. Loss is impossibly tough, but coping with it through the holidays can be even tougher.
There's also the simple fact of the weather being darker and drearier than we have been used to in the previous six months of the year. There's less sunlight, though when the sun does come out and hit the snow, it seems several times brighter than it should ordinarily. The weather seems to have one setting: cold and miserable, with occasional bouts of wet thrown in for good measure.
Stores are packed with people who may or may not be in a good mood, which can take its toll on those doing the shopping and the retail workers themselves. Financial stresses are frequently higher as we try to complete Christmas shopping and potentially final charitable donations before the end of the year.
Family stresses might be higher, too. Let's face it: we don't always like our family members. We might be okay with our immediate family because we've got to learn to live with them daily; our relatives whom we might not see regularly are another story. They may not know you that well, or they are more obnoxious than you recall them as being. Regardless, throw tense family relationships and the potential for alcohol consumption - which might be a bit higher during the holidays than at other times - and you've got a potential recipe for disaster.
Conversely, you might be on your own, living far away from your family, biological or chosen. The loneliness you might struggle with as a result would only become sharper during the holidays.
Finally, the supports you might frequently draw upon to cope during the other times of the year might actually not be available during the holidays. Businesses are closed, fitness facilities might have shuttered for part of the holiday, and if you are already seeing a therapist, their offices might not have any sort of emergency schedule set up. You might be feeling isolated in addition to all of this already going on.
Is it any wonder, then, why people might struggle at this time of year?
I'm no psychologist or social worker - my degree says "Bachelor of Education" - but it's not difficult to see why people might struggle more at this time of year than at any other. It's easy to ask why we should care; after all, we might be more concerned about our self-interests than why other people might find the holidays hard, and I get that. However, it's also important to think about kindness.
It costs nothing to be kind, and it could start with a smile. If you're in a retail environment doing some shopping, use the cashier's name. These are just two simple ideas to actually show some kindness to people you don't even know. Self-care, however, during the holidays might become even more important as you try and navigate tricky family relationships (or a lack thereof) and maintain your sanity in a hectic, physically (though temporarily) darker world.
It's not a perfect solution - no solution ever is - but it's not a bad place to start.