All of South Africa seems to look forward to the December holidays. They are a time for relaxation, spending time with loved ones, family festivities and maybe a holiday. But for some, the holiday season is approached not with enthusiasm, but with dread. Instead of happiness, the holidays bring on depression, feelings of loneliness or nostalgia for times that have passed. But nobody should feel sad over the holidays, so we take a look at some of the leading triggers of the December blues, and suggest ways to beat them.
1. Feeling aloneThe December holidays are one of the hardest times to be alone and lonely, because it seems that everyone else is busy and sociable. It’s also a time when your friends might be out of town or with their own families.
To beat the blues: If you know that you are likely to suffer from loneliness over the holidays, plan ahead to keep yourself busy. Christmas Day can be particularly hard for those who celebrate it and are alone. Ask around on social media whether anyone is having a “waifs and strays” Christmas party for people without families to share festivities with or offer to host one yourself. Consider volunteering at a homeless shelter or children’s home. If your friends are away, look out for events in that will keep you busy and hopefully get you meeting new people.
2. Family conflictsJust because you are family doesn’t mean you all get along. For many people, the stress of dealing with their families is enough to eclipse any sense of holiday happiness. The festive season also creates conditions for conflict around who is hosting, who’s bringing what, how much to spend on gifts, different expectations of holiday rituals, and so on. If you are married, you might have two sets of relatives with conflicting demands and wishes.
To beat the blues: This is a tricky one. Communication with your partner is key. First, agree between the two of you how much time you want to spend with family, and with whom. Remember, it’s your holiday too, and you don’t have to spend all your time with relatives. When it comes to possible conflict areas like money and gifts, be upfront about your preferences and negotiate some boundaries, for instance, a cost per gift, or a Christmas present game like Secret Santa.
3. Not getting your version of downtimeWhether you are home or away, for some people, holidays are about cramming as much fun into three short weeks as possible. For others, three weeks on the sofa with a book is a holiday well spent. In any family, it’s likely that there will be some active people and some more chilled ones, which can result in annoyance and resentment on both sides.
To beat the blues: Find a way to compromise and to work both sets of requirements into your holiday. Plan outings and plan sofa time. Agree to do both things without complaint. And if you’re not in agreement about what to do on any given day, there’s no harm in splitting up to pursue your own interests - or just to take a nap!
4. Loss of a loved oneOne of the biggest causes of holiday blues is the memory of a departed friend of family member – especially if that person usually featured in your holiday plans. This sorrow can be overwhelming, even many years after the loss.
To beat the blues: Allow yourself to feel the grief rather than trying to suppress it. Dedicate a day to remembering your lost loved one – perhaps doing something that they really enjoyed. And make a point of incorporating them into the whole festive season – cook their favourite meals, play their favourite songs and talk about them.
5. Too many demandsSometimes it feels like everyone else is having a holiday at your expense. You’re cooking, washing dishes, picking up clothes, doing lifts and arranging entertainment morning, noon and night. Everyone else is having a lovely time, but you’re just working through your holiday.
To beat the blues: Talk to your family at the beginning of the holiday period. Explain that it’s not a holiday for you if you’re doing more than your share and negotiate a more even spread of chores and duties. You may have to work on yourself a bit and let go of your own desire to sort things out and make everything perfect.
6. Expectations, comparisons and perfectionismSometimes, instead of just having a nice holiday, you can find yourself wishing that it could have been better. Either you remember an earlier holiday that this one’s not living up to, or you see that Debbie on Facebook is having the time of her life in the Seychelles while you’re stuck in Durban. Again.
To beat the blues: They say that comparison is the thief of joy. Take that to heart. Try to enjoy YOUR holiday for what it’s offering YOU in the moment, rather than thinking how it could have been better. Also, stay off Instagram and Facebook if they are stoking your holiday envy!
7. Money pressuresDecember is the month in which you are likely to spend the most money - and little wonder with the holidays, food, travel entertainment and Christmas gifts (if you celebrate). In these tough financial times, the demands of the holiday season can cause heightened anxiety and spoil your enjoyment of your break.
Beat the blues: The best way to keep your money worries at bay is to make a budget and stick to it. Plan how much you can spend from the outset, so you know where you have to cut back to afford the things that really matter. Here are some great suggestions for avoiding overspending and staying out of debt this holiday.
If you’re really battling the December blues, get helpThere are all kinds of tips and tricks you can put into practice to cheer yourself up over the holidays, but if you are struggling to find happiness, think you might be depressed, or you are placing yourself at risk of some kind of self-harm, seek professional help immediately. The South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG) can help with a counsellor’s contact details and offer other resources for combatting depression.