Christmas is a wrap! Then when we’re supposed to be basking in the afterglow of the festive cheer, why do many of us suffer from post-holiday blues?
The gifts have been given, the dinners served and the tree packed away. Christmas, for 2018 at least, is a wrap! But despite all that festive cheer, many of us feel more physically and emotionally drained than we did the whole year before.
Could this be because, according to research, a quarter of all holiday family reunions don’t go as hoped? Psychologists claim there are a number of factors that can make Christmas the stress-fest of the year. First, there is the enforced coming together for concentrated periods of family members who don’t normally live together. Add to this the disappointment of expectations not met, not to mention the radical shift in one’s habitual daily patterns.
The notion of the ideal family may be alive and well in Tinseltown. However, venture beyond the apparently happy facade of most real-life families and what you’ll most likely find couldn’t be further from the truth.
Lower your expectations
“For many, the biggest source of holiday stress is the family,” says psychologist and SACAP educator Tamarin Epstein. For starters, the holiday season often puts us in the same house with people we avoid the rest of the year, she explains.
There are also our unrealistic expectations of the ideal family. According to Epstein, these further heighten the old resentments and tensions between relatives who feel their families don’t quite match up. “Psychologists have shown that if we value something highly (like the notion of ‘the perfect family’), we expect ourselves to have or achieve it. As a result, we feel disappointed not only in our families but also in ourselves when get-togethers don’t go according to our hopes or beliefs. And it makes no difference if these hopes and beliefs are senseless, unrealistic or unhealthy, and cause us untold pain and distress.”
Focus on the positive
Toxic relatives aside, the holiday season also normally signals a break from our normal routines and, as such, gives us time to think and reflect – sometimes to our own detriment.
“The close of one year and the start of another frequently highlights what has changed in our life… and what hasn’t,” says Cassey Chambers, Operations Director at The South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG), one of SACAP’s Bachelor of Psychology practicum organisations.
“For those who’ve experienced traumatic change through the year, such as a divorce or a death in the family, or even for those who feel that nothing has changed at all and that they’re stuck in the same old rut, this time of reflection can be unsettling. The emotions and memories that surface as a result, can be difficult to deal with,” explains Chambers.
Remember to be gentle on yourself
Balancing the demands of shopping, gift giving, family obligations, visitors and financial expenses can leave us overwhelmed and stressed. Add to that a good steamrolling by our relatives, then throw alcohol and over-eating into the mix and it’s no wonder we end up with a sense of being completely out of control.
SADAG reports that during the festive season higher levels of stress and depression are recorded than any other time, and that December has the highest rate of suicides for the whole year.
“But don’t write off the signs of depression or serious stress as mere holiday blues in the hope that they’ll have disappeared by the end of January,” warns Chambers. If you’re worried or unsure how to handle your feelings in the aftermath of a distressing holiday, rather give SADAG a call or seek the help of a well-trained psychologist or a Registered Counsellor, such as those equipped with a Bachelor of Psychology degree from SACAP.
If you’d like to kick off your own rewarding counselling career, enquire now.