Here’s how to deal with depression at Christmas

Truthfully, I’d just endured the worst year of my life, and had been prescribed anti-depressants for crippling depression. My ex had cheated on me, and for the first time, I was desperately unhappy on Christmas Day.

‘Tis the season to be jolly, but for many Christmas time is filled with pressure, anxiety and depression.

Five years ago, instead of pulling crackers with a paper crown on my head, I spent Christmas day in tears.

But I had makeup on, I’d lost four dress sizes, and fit into a new glittery dress. I even had a pile of thoughtful gifts, and was surrounded by loved ones – why wasn’t I happy?

‘But it’s Christmas!’ family members said angrily, gobsmacked that I could possibly be unhappy while the tree in my living room twinkled. I can understand why they called me Grinch, or said I was miserable – every song, every advert, and every card demanded I be merry, jolly, loving, celebratory, thankful and at peace. But despite the wreath on the door, the stockings above the fireplace, the amazing food and flowing drinks – I just couldn’t be happy. Thankfully, after a few glasses of fizz and a box of Quality Street, I opened up to the family I cherish the most and they grew to understand why I felt so low.

I made the bold move to come off my anxiety medication, here’s exactly what happened…

Sadly, it’s estimated that 300 million people (that’s 1 in 4) struggle with depression, and it’s not something they can turn off when, baby, it’s cold outside.

For some, it gets worse. According to Dr Abby Hyams, a MedicSpot GP, when the nights get darker, colder and longer, Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is rife.

“Some people are more prone to this [SAD] as the days get shorter and we get less daylight exposure. Getting as much daylight as possible, spending quality time with friends and family can have many benefits and help ward off the symptoms of SAD.”

For millennials, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed this festive season by comparing your day to your followers.

“Christmas is that time of year where we’re bombarded with amazing looking adverts, showing happy families enjoying a wonderful meal together,” claims psychotherapist Nick Davies. “Sometimes we may compare this to our own reality which can lead us to believe that our lives are worse than others leading to low mood.”

Here’s how to know if you’re suffering with Seasonal Affective Disorder and how you can cure it

This pressure, coupled with high-stress environments, busy shopping streets, high-energy workplaces and gossip-ridden office parties can mean Christmas time is daunting for those of us with mental illnesses. But it’s nothing to be ashamed of if your own personal war isn’t over by the time December 25 comes around.

It’s important not to feel guilty if you are struggling around family and friends, convinced that you stole Christmas for all the wrong reasons – but it might help to come clean.

“Being in a happy environment and being around loved ones when you feel lonely can trigger symptoms of depression,” says Dr Jane Leonard. “If you have an insight into why it’s going on or you’re having negative feelings – then it’s the first step of tackling it and just admitting you are feeling low is a big step. Confiding in one person whom you trust will they can delicately tell the rest of the family. Otherwise, you’ll be making yourself feel more anxious with another task to deal with it.”

Depression isn’t something to be embarrassed about, but if you’d really rather not talk (families are complicated!), start by breaking the day down into sections. Say, once you’ve had breakfast by 9am, it’s a small achievement, and you can work your way to overcoming your next challenge.

Spend some time cooking, playing with pets or children. A welcome, innocent distraction will keep your mind from straying to negative thoughts that may trigger you. Get some fresh air. Take yourself out from a stressful environment and spend some time alone, concentrating on your breathing and taking your next step.

Don’t be afraid to say no. Who really wants to see the ex-school bully in the pub on Christmas Eve? Avoid high-energy situations where people will ask you direct questions, and spend quality time with those you feel comfortable round. That goes with drinking and over-indulging, too – caffeine, alcohol and high-sugar foodstuffs are depressants.

Lastly, do not judge yourself. It’s okay to be sad. Recognise your triggers, accept that they’re part of you, and you don’t need to change. Practice positive affirmations, self-care and self-love.

Once you’re at peace with yourself, you can start to be comfortable around the ones you love next Christmas – but there’s no hurry or judgement.

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