For some people 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 people who dread this time of 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 separations and there may even have been abuse or a recent bereavement. In these cases Christmas can be a reminder of these painful 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.
All this anxiety can lead to depression, and for depressed people, who already find it difficult to socialize and to experience any joy in company, Christmas can be an especially trying time, and they may feel more isolated than ever.
The expense of Christmas and the pressure to spend more than one can afford on the latest and most fashionable 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 anxiety, stress and even to depression.
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 though 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. Colinde Linda states: "It 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 a brain." The prolonged use of excessive amounts of alcohol aggravates depression, and leads to anxiety and depression in people who were not formerly depressed. Alcohol and depression do not mix.
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:
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.
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 over.
Remember that alcohol is essentially a depressant. Excessive amounts will not help you cope and could worsen the situation.
Remember that there are people to talk to, who are willing to listen and to 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) 783-1474/6 or (011) 884 1797. They are open over Christmas and New Year.
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 a new surrounding
· Spend the time in as unChristmassy a way as possible - spring cleaning, gardening or DIY
SELF HELP FOR DEPRESSION
1. Trying to deal with your pain on your own can only serve to perpetuate your feelings of aloneness. Share your feelings with others rather than bottling them up.
2. Increase positive contact. Although you may want to be alone, you may feel better if you try to take part in some activities you previously enjoyed with your family and friends. Try and avoid situations that my result in negative feelings.
3. Set yourself a daily routine and try as much as possible to maintain that routine. You may not be able to do all your usual activities, so be sure to set a routine that is realistic.
4. Learn to make small goals that are attainable. Once achieved, use positive self-talk to make yourself feel good about your achievement. Self criticism must be minimised.
5. Avoid making life decisions, such as changing jobs or ending a relationship, until you are feeling better.
6. Change your lifestyle: most people suffering from depression have been found to be perfectionists and drive themselves much too hard. You may need to learn to lower impossible standards. Try and reduce your workload in order to live your life at a slower pace.
7. Exercise: Depression often leads to exhaustion and lack of motivation. Despite this, any form of physical exercise, however small, will often have beneficial results. If some exercise can be taken in the fresh air, this can add to the benefit. Walk the dog!
8. Diet is important. Under or over eating is a symptom of depression. It is essential to have a well balanced diet which prevents tiredness and feeling run down.
9. Relaxation: You may become irritable and ultra-sensitive. Relaxation techniques such as yoga, meditation, aroma-therapy, breathing exercises, audio tapes, massage etc. are all effective ways of allaying anxiety and tension that may accompany your depression.
10. Read books: learning about and understanding the nature of the condition and its possible causes, will help to remove much of the fear, guilt and misconception which many people have. Get a broader picture by reading as many books as possible. Give them to relatives and friends to read. This will help them to understand the illness.
11. Avoid ‘props’ such as smoking, illicit drugs and dependency on alcohol. Alcohol in particular is a depressant and despite giving a temporary lift, it can worsen your depression.
12. Join a support group. A support group is the first place you can go where everyone understands and no-one judges. Knowing that someone else truly understands by having ‘been there’ brings a sense of relief.
13. Remember, seeking treatment is a sign of strength, and is the first step to feeling better.
14. Don’t expect too much from yourself right away. Feeling better takes time. Keep your expectations realistic. It is usually not possible to resolve an issue or change a long life pattern overnight.
HELPING A DEPRESED FRIEND OR LOVED ONE OVER CHRISTMAS.
1. HELP THE SUFFERER OBTAIN APPROPRIATE DIAGNOSIS & TREATMENT: Accompany your loved one to a professional psychiatrist or psychologist for diagnosis, referral or treatment. Remember that the most effective treatment is a combination of medication and counseling therapy.
2. SUPPORT GROUPS: Determine if there are any support groups in your area. Sharing frustrations, difficulties and thoughts with others in a similar position helps.
3. BE PREPARED: Since depression is a disease, you will need to learn much about the disease, and more about your loved one suffering from the disease. You will need to offer care and to create a supportive environment for the sufferer. This involves understanding, patience and attention.
4. SUPPORTIVE RELATIONSHIPS ARE IMPORTANT: Relationships with family members and friends are a vital part of the sufferer’s regime against depression. Make it a habit to express care and appreciation for family members and loved ones. Feel free to pay compliments and notice the good in loved ones.
5. INVOLVE THE PERSON IN YOUR LIFE AND ACTIVITIES: Invite your loved ones for walks, outings, trips to the movies and other activities you would normally do. Be gently insistent if your invitation is initially declined. Encourage participation in pleasurable activities and hobbies - both new activities and activities that the person enjoyed prior to the onset of depression.
6. AVOID PRESSURISING THE DEPRESSED PERSON TO CHEER UP: Depressed people are suffering from REAL problems and not merely low moods. Do not expect the depressed person to ‘snap out’ of the condition, nor treat it as a faked illness or sign of laziness.
7. BE SENSITIVE - LISTEN!: Listen to what they are saying. An attentive listener is what most depressed people look for. Be there to listen and comfort, but respect the person’s own needs and abilities. DO NOT exclude the person from family matters or discussions in the belief that it would be less stressful if they are not involved. Treat the person as normally as possible. Listen to the person’s hopes, fears, frustrations and needs. DO NOT TRY TO PROBLEM-SOLVE!
8. ENCOURAGE: Encouragement is vital - remind the sufferer that seeking treatment is a sign of strength. Remind the sufferer that treatment for the illness is always available and has proven to be very successful. Reassure the depressed person that the condition is only temporary and that they WILL recover in time.
9. AVOID PATRONISING OR BABYING YOUR LOVED ONE: Appreciate the fact that the depressed person is not at their best and try to help out where you can, where necessary. Be sensitive - you should not seek to do everything for the depressed person - while this may seem to be the best thing to do in light of the sufferer not being able to do everything for themselves, it is actually beneficial for the person to accept some responsibility as this can improve self-esteem.
10. SUICIDE: If your loved one or friend mentions having thoughts of suicide, take it seriously and seek professional help immediately. If a loved one makes an attempt at suicide, DO NOT try to assign blame - their actions and feelings are symptomatic of the illness.