Christmas seems to be a time when – contrary to all the messages in the media – people feel unhappy, down and blue.
We can all remember Christmases from our childhood. We hear the stories of others. We watch all of the messages from advertisers and the media. When we think about ‘our’ Christmas, it often doesn’t measure up.
And here is where the problem lies. The gap between expectation and reality. If the expectation of what Christmas ‘should’ be is too great, then any Christmas that we experience is less and we can end up disappointed.
People also often feel down at Christmas because it is a time for reflection. When they think back, they focus on unhappy, sad or negative events, which can amplify their distress. Particularly if they have lost a loved one or had a ‘tough’ year, this reflection can be painful. We are told that Christmas is a time for happiness and gratitude, but if we have had unhappy or unpleasant things occur throughout the year, is it really valuable to dwell on them?
We also can have expectations of how others will behave. With high expectations, we can feel worthless or let down when others behave according to their own rules, rather than ours.
Is it any wonder, then, that Christmas is often not the season to be jolly, but the season to be blue?
However, there is plenty you can do about it:
- Remember to have realistic expectations of the season and of others. How you determine what to expect from a circumstance or from other people will set the benchmark for whether you will have a realistic Christmas, or a disappointing one. Expecting people to behave differently to how they normally do, for example, is a sure-fire way to lead yourself into disappointment.
- Remember not to personalise. Sometimes things happen for no apparent reason, not because you are ‘good’ or ‘bad’. People behave according to their own agendas, not based upon how you think they should behave. If you decide that things happen because of your ‘character’, because you ‘deserved it’ or you are ‘not good enough’, then anything which happens can be used as a reason to give yourself a hard time. Really asking yourself whether these things are true, and if you should personalise them, is a great first step in protecting yourself from this negative spiral.
- Know that it is OK to remember things from throughout the year, but remember they are in your past. It is valuable to reflect and take stock, but it is important to remember that your past does not determine your future. A tough year with lots of negative events and disappointments does not change how next year will be. That is entirely based on the next action that you take and what the future may hold. Allowing yourself to set the past into the past, and the see the future as a new page can often make such reflection valuable rather than painful.
- Speak up and seek help. Feeling bad and isolating yourself only amplifies your negative feelings and thoughts. If you find yourself doing this, break out and ask for help. From a friend, from Lifeline, from other support groups or a trained counsellor or therapist. If you see someone isolating themselves, then be sure to ask “Are you OK?”
So, as 2013 draws to a close, I wish all of you a realistic and hopeful Christmas, and a new year laden with possibilities and actions to help them become reality.