It’s that time of year again. You know the one you are meant to be anticipating with great delight, like a young child eagerly awaiting his or her presents under the tree. The time you are expected to meet with cheer and a wholehearted embrace of your fellow man. Where the expectations are only exceeded by the brightness of the decorations on the most well lit up of the suburban destination Christmas houses. And for some, this is wonderfully true. A time when they can reconnect with loved ones, take time to break bread, reminisce and look forward to the year ahead.
But we all know that this is not the reality for all of us and that many will struggle over the holidays. Many are isolated and lonely, without people they really care for and are cared about by. Not to mention the multitude struggling with mental health problems like depression, which can make the expectations of the season extraordinarily hard to bear.
Whichever of these groups you fall within, I offer a few suggestions below to help make this holiday season a hopefully happier, or at a minimum easier, one to manage one.
1. Take time to connect.
Social connections are good for your mental health. Share the important moments and stories of your year. Ask questions and create space to really listen and understand the people you are with. You might be surprised what you hear.
2. Take a break from social media, and perhaps from technology in general.
The last 20 years has seen a fundamental decline in the quality of interpersonal relationships as we have moved too much of our lives onto online platforms. Put away your phone, stay off technology when you are with friends and family and spend time in the physical world. If you feel bored, don’t reach for your phone and distraction: talk to someone, go for a walk or just sit with the feeling.
3. Think about who you are connecting with this holiday season.
Not all social connections are good for your mental health. You know what the people around you are really like, who is going to be supportive and those who are just going to drag you down further. Don’t be afraid to let this guide whom you spend meaningful time with, and as importantly, with whom you don’t.
4. Discover what it is truly you want to do for the holidays.
Holidays don’t mean the same thing to everyone. If you are uncertain, spend some time to reflect on what is important to you at this time of year. How can you express your values, what will be meaningful, what is your way of acknowledging the end of the year, and of nurturing your relationships? If your thing is to cherish others through food, embrace this, be the family cook and throw yourself into it with all your passion. If it is to be the entertainer, be so, tell stories and do so with enthusiasm. Whatever it is, ensure it is what is true of you.
5. Make sure you find a way to reset and recharge.
For some this will come through social reconnection but certainly not everyone. Others may need to be in nature or at least outside somewhere pleasant: if this is you make the effort to do so, even if you need to rug up. Bring along someone who you really want to be with, or not, choose what you need to do.
Paul Fitzgerald, PhD, MBBS is Director of the School of Medicine and Psychology and a Professor of Psychiatry at the Australian National University in Canberra, Australia. He completed his Medical Degree at Monash University followed by a Masters of Psychological Medicine and professional training in Psychiatry leading to membership of the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists. After a fellowship at the University of Toronto, he completed a research PhD in Psychiatry. Paul has conducted extensive research developing new treatments for depression and other conditions while continuing to practice as a psychiatrist and has established multiple clinical services in the provision of new treatment methods. He is the author of Curing Stubborn Depression: Emerging & Breakthrough Therapies for Treatment-Resistant Depression.