How to be merry even though it’s Christmas.

IT’S THE MERRY CHRISTMAS season, a holy time, joy-to-the-world days, happy Chanukah, the heartiest and most beautiful holiday of the year — except that it often doesn’t work out that way. And the only way to deal with this paradox is to understand how and why it works.

The truth is, few people get through these gala days without feeling decidedly annoyed by the season. With some, it’s only a flinching reaction to the insistent jollity. Others, particularly those suspended in the middle years between taskless childhood and self-indulgent old age, are harassed by shopping, wrapping, mailing, cooking and debts — and the notion that what started out to be a gentle religious festival has been hoked out of shape by the vendors.

Quite a number of people have an old grudge against Christmas: it is a regular reminder of disappointment, suffering or isolation in some less-than-perfect Christmas past. A proportion of these have what amounts to an annual breakdown at Christmas, one that is now being investigated by psychiatrists who call it either the Holiday Syndrome or Christmas Neurosis. Their main symptoms are depression and deep anger, though they may conceal them gallantly under the requisite degree of ho-ho heartiness.

These individuals are gloomy because of the idealized warmth and sweetness of the season, not in spite of it. Since they cannot, for various reasons, experience all the elation that seems to abound, their private desolation is the mark of failure, and a bitter one.

Most people can bask in Christmas as children do, frankly relishing the food and drink treats, the conspiracy of gift hiding, the expectancy of wish-fulfillment, the tumult of parties and gaudy decorations, the simplicity and sentiment of a baby Saviour. It’s a mass regression to untroubled pre-adolescence, and the pleasure seeking can be atoned for neatly by New Year’s resolutions.

But there are flickers of doubt. Carol singing can grow tedious, week after week, outdoor decorations are competitive and oath provoking, gift-shopping is exhaustion and frustration in a pure form. The relatives gather, not always a happy sight. A lot of people accordingly plan trips to remove themselves from Christmas, only to find themselves sourly marking the oddity of Christmas lights in a palm tree or the cheeriness of strangers in a ski lodge.

“Not being joyous during the Christmas season is much more common than most of us realize,” observed a report by four psychiatrists at the University of Utah, who recently completed a study of psychological complaints at yuletime.

Dismay, in a mild degree, is universal. Sociologists have been noting that ordinary conversations during the pre-Christmas rush are rarely luminous with goodwill. Women complain of weariness, anxiety while shopping, the greediness of their get; men are uneasy over expenses and drinking too much. “There are few spontaneous exclamations about how wonderful it all is,” comments a noted Canadian psychiatrist, Montreal’s Dr. Alastair MacLeod. “There seems to be a great deal of hostility and anger over being impelled into something.”

The tender concepts of the season, in the Christian religion of the Nativity and in Judaism the candlelight memorial to freedom, are hard to confront under the smothering of carnival commercialism. There is a resultant loss of tranquillity felt by everyone.

One of the world’s most distinguished psychoanalysts, Ernest Jones, once wrote that Christmas represents psychologically “the ideal of resolving all family discord in happy reunion.” It’s an excruciatingly vulnerable ideal, since distance, divorce and death can shatter it, while old grievances within the family can make success chancy.

There is a sharp rap of despair when the family can’t be together, or when it can and the gathering tends to stir up old irritations rather than erase them. The disappointment can be so acute that rage breaks out readily — murders are not uncommon at Christmas, or accidents involving a violent mood and family dissension on a monumental scale. In some countries,o notably Germany, the suicide rate climbs at this season.

Scientists became intrigued some twenty years ago with the special depression that Christmas creates, with glancing attention to the lesser blues that sometimes attend vacations in the summer or even Sunday afternoons. Comparing notes, doctors discovered that many of their psychiatric patients suffered severe setbacks during the Christmas season. Succeeding studies of normal people revealed a vast, subsurface ocean of unrest, a distress that seems so ill-timed that its victims usually hide it under a pseudo-enthusiastic and tiring kind of gaiety.

The United States psychoanalyst J. P. Cattell describes the Holiday Syndrome as extending for more than a month before Christmas to a few days after New Year’s Day. It is characterized, he reported in 1954 to the American Psychoanalytic Association, by the “presence of diffuse anxiety, numerous regressive phenomena including marked feelings of helplessness, possessiveness and increased irritability, nostalgic or bitter rumination about holiday experiences of youth, depressive effect and a wish for magical resolution of problems.”

That’s a wordy nutshell. Many people bear with year-long humiliations and misery but cannot avoid the futile hope that Christmas morning will cure it all. The season brings forth an inner child, a loitering Peter Pan who wants coddling and gets instead a hatful of bills. The knowledge that Christmas is an expensive cheat, with only a flash or two of lovely lustre, creates a general jangling of nerves that silver bells cannot quite cover.

Some people have a clear idea why they are unhappy at Christmas. One famous Canadian writer, for instance, was deserted by his wife on Christmas Eve and another buried his only daughter shortly after she had helped decorate the Christmas tree. A young mother of three whose critical in-laws visited her for six weeks before every Christmas, bulging the facilities of a small apartment, eventually detested the entire season. A Montreal engineer felt a chill every Christmas until he was nearly forty, a residue of his mother’s insistence that he open all his gifts alone in his room. A man who was raised in an orphanage doesn’t feel comfortable watching his children receive their presents — they’re never grateful enough.

Some experts feel that the North American accent on gift exchanging is causing a good deal of Christmas blues. To a child’s mind — and many an adult’s as well — the quantity and quality of gifts received is tangible evidence of his valuableness in the world. Friends who receive more and better gifts are assumed to be better loved, a brother or sister getting more lavish presents is a catastrophe. For this reason even mature people feel a droop in spirits as the last gift is unwrapped, while children are inclined to protest violently.

The emotional involvement in gift-giving is such that people who are unable to love their families, or who feel inadequate in some way, tend to give luxurious presents, beyond their means, as a conscience calmer.

Christmas, accordingly, can be an economic disaster and many heads are filled at this season with a dance of debts. The financial demands of gifts, decorations, tips and entertainment is a strain that creates panic, making tempers snappish.

Dr. MacLeod, the Montreal psychiatrist, is reminded at this time of the year of the potlatch customs of some British Columbia Indian tribes, who destroy their enemies by loading them with gifts and food. The guests of honor are expected to give an even more sumptuous feast and gifts in return, wrecking their resources if they comply and disgracing themselves if they don’t. Christmas gift-giving can also be persecution: there is a mutually ruinous trend on this continent to give back a slightly better gift than was received.

But worry over debt is only one of the many factors which disturb people at Christmas. Some scientists, notably Ernest Jones, suspect that a primitive identification with the sun affects mankind, so that the waning of the winter sun rekindles a primitive fear in everyone that human powers are weakening as well.

Some of the responsibility for Christmas depression would then lie with the early Christians who somewhat arbitrarily chose December 25 as Christ’s birthday, usurping the date of the most widely celebrated of pagan festivals. Ardent sunworshippers believed that the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year, was the date on which the old sun died and a new one was born. They celebrated giddily: plentiful food and drink, their best attire, fires lit to support the burgeoning young sun. The Romans ornamented their homes with wreaths and exchanged gifts and visits. The Druids gathered mistletoe and the Saxons holly and ivy.

More than three hundred years after the death of Christ, many of the new church’s followers were distressed that the teachings of the forgiving, love-honoring Son were being overshadowed by the harsher tenets of the Father. To elevate the importance of the Son, they decided to establish His birthday as a festival. Since the actual date was debatable (many modern scholars place it in the spring), the symbolism of the pagan feast to the newborn sun made it the most apt choice of several that were tried.

Bawdy beginnings of holy days

It was a technique of the time to smooth the way for conversion by supplanting pagan ceremonies with Christian likenesses. The Feast of the Epiphany, for instance, takes place on the day that Egyptians marked the virgin birth of their god Aeon. The festival of the goddess Diana was replaced with the Assumption of the Virgin and the Celtic Feast of the Dead became All Souls Day.

(Occasionally Christians grow fretful at the bawdy beginnings of some of their holiest days: An act of English parliament in 1644 abolished Christmas as a “heathen festival”; it was reinstated promptly when the Merry Monarch, Charles II, took the throne. )

Similarly, the Jewish ceremonial lighting of candles during Chanukah bears the imprint of pagan sunworshipping. The eight days of Chanukah have some points of resemblance to the Roman Saturnalia, also a festival of goodwill and rejoicing which was observed originally on December 19 and later extended for seven days. Chanukah, the happiest of all Jewish ceremonial days, celebrates the victory of a Jewish tribe, the Maccabees, in history’s first war of conscience.

The selection of deep. dark, cold winter for determined merrymaking sets up an inevitable conflict that many experts blame for some of the despondency of the season. Days of brief sunshine produce their own melancholy. And so does the imminence of the year’s end — the dying of time, years running out, life running out.

In addition to this, for many North American Jews Chanukah has become a period of painful yielding. Their holiday pales beside the more widely and conspicuously celebrated Christmas, a comparison which causes Jewish children to feel bereft. To offset this, some Jewish parents decorate a Christmas tree — calling it a Chanukah bush — and put presents beneath it. These concessions shame the devout. both those who practise them and those who observe their fellow Jews practising them, and thus contribute to holiday depression.

But the deepest and most serious depressions at this time, bordering on a temporary mental illness, are believed to be a legacy of jealousy in childhood. Some doctors have reported in scientific journals that some adults under psychoanalysis even demonstrate an unconscious and corrosive envy of the Infant who receives so much love and attention at Christmas and cannot be competed against.

Other experts are examining a theory that problems arise at Christmas because reality is suspended by the childish pursuit of pleasure. Dr. Cattell observed that most people are healthy enough to manage the intoxication of tinsel, spruce and incense without losing sight of maturity, but others regress firmly into childhood and find a chamber of horrors awaiting them.

The Christmas-Chanukah observances. however, cannot in themselves create an untypical mood. They only exaggerate feelings which during the rest of the year are simmering but kept repressed by the thumb of conscience. At holiday time the conscience relaxes and releases whatever malice and envy it has been hiding.

Sandor Ferenczi, a brilliant Hungarian psychoanalyst, believed that the loosening of external and internal restrictions, which accompanies a holiday-inspired release from routine, is frightening to some people, causing them to grow alarmed, despondent, restive and ill. Among the side-effects of festive easing of the conscience are an aroused sexual appetite and an interest in aberration.

The period surrounding Chanukah, Christmas and New Year’s Day is not only the most chaotic of the year but the most permissive of exuberant behavior. As a consequence it can exert a most disastrous effect on people who are confident only when they are under the control of a routine-filled life. Dr. Jules Eisenbud, a New York psychoanalyst, observed in a paper, Negative Reactions to Christmas, that this season permits “social sanction to forms of enjoyment which at other times must be held to a judicious minimum.” Another psychoanalyst, Dr. L. Bruce Boyer, added, “It is to be expected that the degree of neurotic response to such an intense holiday release would be frequent and severe.”

Psychiatrists arc collecting an interesting dossier of Holiday Syndrome case histories. One of them describes a woman engineer who was exhibitionistic, aggressive and convinced she was unwanted. At Christmas she always felt especially forlorn. “I used to feel that if I didn’t find something wonderful that Christmas, I’d find it another,” she told her doctor. The “something wonderful” was proof that her parents loved her, a gift that was perpetually withheld.

Another woman expressed hatred of her preferred brother only when Christmas approached, a malevolence that always surprised and terrified her. A psychiatrist drew out the underlying cause. As a child, the woman had always felt that her parents favored her brother. This feeling became particularly poignant at Christmas, and in later years, although she had long since forgotten the supposed favoritism, the coming of Christmas revived the hurt.

A department store buyer who also grew up with a much-favored brother became savage in her business relationships with men during the Christmas season and twice was fired because of it. Her doctor discovered she had once asked Santa Claus to change her into a boy so her parents would like her better. The collapse of this confidently expected miracle left her with an annual vendetta against the masculine sex.

A salesman who loathed Christmas traced it to an event when he was nine years old. He discovered a new bicycle hidden behind his house and assumed it was intended for his Christmas gift. When it went instead to his younger, handsomer and more clever brother, he formed a distrust for Christmas that thirty years of living hadn’t healed.

A strongly religious woman went to a psychiatrist when she realized she hated Christ every year at Christmas. She was blaming the Baby, it turned out, for her own emotionally barren childhood. A beautiful young girl began to quarrel viciously with her boy friend at Christmas, becoming demanding and petulant. Her father had deserted her mother, an absence the girl felt most acutely at Christmas and which ever after prodded her apprehension that all men eventually desert their wives.

The Utah psychiatrists studied the case of a man who was so wretched in his home town at Christmas time that he fled to a nudist camp. One father, otherwise a responsible citizen, passed bad cheques every Christmas. Another, who delighted his family with his choice of birthday and anniversary gifts, always refused to do any Christmas shopping at all. A divorcee who felt sentimental about Christmas couldn’t endure being alone then — she cried and broke out in hives.

“Some of the ordinary unhappiness at Christmas is related to the turbulence in the family,” explains Dr. MacLeod. “Quite a few people are sensitive to the strain of household upheaval and are upset by it. The home becomes unfamiliar, which disturbs and worries everyone. You’ll notice that children react by contracting some kind of ailment. We now know there is a definite connection between emotions and the body’s ability to defend itself against some of tile causes of illness.”

Whatever causes it — lack of sunshine, childhood jealousy, confusion, old wounds or apprehension because the lid is off — the Holiday Syndrome is now drawing considerable medical attention. The chief benefit so far is that those who endure the strange malady of loneliness in the midst of gladness, ire instead of awe, know at least that they are not oddities, but members of a substantial group.

They have some practical solutions to ponder. Some families have stopped sending Christmas cards and others exchange few gifts or none at all, investing the resultant saving in CARE packages or local givings. Some individuals have overcome their aversion to Christmas by rooting out their prized collection of old injustices. There is an evident trend toward quieter, sweeter family celebrations, a tendency to savor that has been accelerated by current portents of doom. With the hustle out, it’s astonishing what remains — a sense of holiness, for one, and peace, and even joy.

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What Not To Say To Those Struggling With Mental Illness.

For those who are grieving, the holidays are hardly “the most wonderful time of the year.” Not only are they navigating their pain, they’re doing it during a time that’s supposed to be joyous.

Loved ones often try to alleviate some of the grief a person may be feeling by offering helpful phrases or advice, but what may seem like a supportive statement could actually be exacerbating a person’s sadness, Dan Reidenberg, chair of the American Psychotherapy Association, told The Huffington Post.“Certain statements don’t take into account what the grieving person is feeling,” Reidenberg said. “They end up really focused on the person who isn’t grieving.”

Take a look at advice from Reidenberg and a couple of additional experts and avoid these common pitfalls:

1. “Smile, it’s the holidays.”

While this is a good intentioned way of trying to cheer someone up, it may come across as invalidating.

“Statements like these end up sending a message to the grieving person ‘hide your sadness’ or “’it’s not okay to be sad,’” Reidenberg said. “This hurts them, makes them feel more alone and that their grief might somehow be wrong.”

2. “Next year will be better.”

Grief often makes the future look foggy.

“The holidays are filled with memories of good times, happy times, when loved ones and friends shared experiences and made memories together,” Reidenberg said. “Those are now in the past for the person grieving and that is very hard on them.”
Include the individual in your holiday preparations and just spend quality time with them when they need it, Reidenberg suggested. A supportive presence goes further than you think.

3. Any questions about the details of the death.

Curiosity should be stifled in this case, according to Nancy Marshall, a licensed professional counselor and author of Getting Through It: A Workbook for Suicide Survivors.

“Don’t force anyone to tell the story over and re-expose the trauma,” Marshall told HuffPost. “Your right to the ‘news’ does not trump their need for well-being.”

4. “Let’s try not to think about them right now.”

“People have a hard time being around someone who is sad and grieving, so they often try to take their mind off it or somehow make it better and the reality is that sometimes it just can’t be better,” Reidenberg said.

Acknowledging a person’s loss is crucial. Instead, try asking the grieving individual about any traditions they used to love to do with the person who passed, Reidenberg advised. Allow the person to guide you on how much or little they want to discuss.

5. “They’re in a better place.”

It’s easy to default on cliches, but they often come across as impersonal. Phrases like “everything happens for a reason” and “they’re in a better place now,” can often make a person grieving feel even more isolated if they aren’t at a place where they can accept what happened yet, Reidenberg said.

Try saying something like “I can’t imagine how you must be feeling” or “Is there anything I can do for you?” instead. And never underestimate the power of saying that you’re sorry this happened to them.
Ultimately, grief will subside but your support through the process is vital for the person who is in pain.
“It certainly will never be ‘okay’ that this happened, but time will pass and the sharpest pain will recede from consciousness,” Marshall said. “Always be compassionate with yourself as an observer and with your friend who experienced a horrible loss.”


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Study finds many Millennials spend Christmas alone

Mind has today released research into the different responses of different generations to the pressure of Christmas as part of its Christmas campaign. Key findings include:

  • One in ten Millennials [25-34 y.o.] have no one to spend Christmas with compared to one in 20 older people [65+] (10% vs. 5%)
  • Half of Millennials (48%) worry about their finances at Christmas compared to only one in five older people (18%)
  • A third of Millennials (35%) dwell on things they failed to achieve in the year, compared to one in ten older people (9%)

Mind, the UK’s leading mental health charity, has today released research which suggests that Millennials (25 to 34 year olds) are twice as likely as people aged 65 and over to have no one to spend Christmas with. The general population poll¹ of 2,037 people also found that almost half of Millennials worry about their finances at Christmas, compared to only one in five older people. Overall, Millennials were consistently among the age groups most likely to respond negatively to the festive period, while older people were consistently among those least likely.

The weight of expectation around personal achievement seemed to have a particularly negative impact on 25 to 34 year olds, with a third dwelling on things they failed to achieve in the year, compared to one in ten older people. It is possible that social media has a role to play in setting these expectations, with 18 to 34 year olds most likely to compare their Christmases on social media and most likely to feel pressure to present their Christmas on social media.

Most worryingly is the fact that 25 to 34 year olds are most likely of all age groups to keep their worries to themselves, with one in ten saying they wouldn’t want to ask for help over the festive period for fear of what other people would think of them. Not seeking support can lead to more serious problems developing and it is particularly concerning that this age group is the most likely to consider taking their own lives directly because of the festive period (one in twelve people).

Mind is urging people to donate to their Christmas Appeal, so they can be there for everyone who needs them this Christmas. Visit for more information.

Caitlin Maggs, 24, called the Mind Infoline last December when she felt lost and at breaking point, said:

“I find Christmas a particularly anxious time. Every year, there is extra pressure to be happy, to have love surround you – and for me, it feels the loneliest because of this. The media create this ‘perfect’ vision of a family Christmas – and it’s an ideal that has hung over me and made me very miserable. My depression and anxiety always gets worse in December.

“Last Christmas I turned to Mind. Feeling lost and at breaking point, I found Mind’s Infoline on their website and reached out. I needed to speak to someone who could just listen without judgement and give advice. The lady who answered my call was incredibly friendly and informative. She was able to relate instantly and empathise. We talked through what help I could get and by the end of the conversation I had already begun to feel better. Before I reached out to Mind, I’d felt as though I was trapped in a dark well. Mind threw me a rope and I caught hold of it. I can’t thank Mind enough for their support.”

Stephen Buckley, Head of Information for Mind, said:

“For most people Christmas is something to look forward to, a time for celebration and relaxation. Our research suggests, however, that for Millennials the festive period can actually be more stressful than other times of the year, with financial concerns and the pressure of social media all adding to a sense of worry during the festive period. Regardless of age, Christmas can be particularly difficult for the one in four people who experience a mental health problem, especially if they feel unable to ask for help. While Mind can’t make Christmas perfect, we can ensure that everyone has the support they need, whether through our Infoline or online resources such as our guides for coping with stress and our Elefriends online peer support community. We can’t provide these without your support, so please donate to our Christmas Appeal at to help us be there for someone who needs us this Christmas.”

¹ Polling was conducted by Populus who interviewed 2,037 GB adults 18+ online between 9 and 10 November 2016.

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Tips for a stress free Christmas.

With the holidays coming up, one would think that it would be an incredibly joyful time. I however, find the holidays particularly daunting, especially with all the functions i’m expected to go to and spending money on gifts. It’s a little different going into the holidays when you suffer from depression, although I am in a much better place now (functioning wise), it’s still a little uncomfortable to see people get so excited about the holidays and I feel indifferent. I do look forward to spending some time with loved ones back home and have the workload of school off my back for a couple weeks though 🙂

For those of you that feel the same, I found an article that seems useful, and offers good reminders to seek help, minimize stress, and hopefully enjoy the holidays.

Let’s take care of one another!

– M


Tips to prevent holiday stress and depression

When stress is at its peak, it’s hard to stop and regroup. Try to prevent stress and depression in the first place, especially if the holidays have taken an emotional toll on you in the past.

    1. Acknowledge your feelings. If someone close to you has recently died or you can’t be with loved ones, realize that it’s normal to feel sadness and grief. It’s OK to take time to cry or express your feelings. You can’t force yourself to be happy just because it’s the holiday season.
    2. Reach out. If you feel lonely or isolated, seek out community, religious or other social events. They can offer support and companionship. Volunteering your time to help others also is a good way to lift your spirits and broaden your friendships.
    3. Be realistic. The holidays don’t have to be perfect or just like last year. As families change and grow, traditions and rituals often change as well. Choose a few to hold on to, and be open to creating new ones. For example, if your adult children can’t come to your house, find new ways to celebrate together, such as sharing pictures, emails or videos.
    4. Set aside differences. Try to accept family members and friends as they are, even if they don’t live up to all of your expectations. Set aside grievances until a more appropriate time for discussion. And be understanding if others get upset or distressed when something goes awry. Chances are they’re feeling the effects of holiday stress and depression, too.
    5. Stick to a budget. Before you go gift and food shopping, decide how much money you can afford to spend. Then stick to your budget. Don’t try to buy happiness with an avalanche of gifts.

Try these alternatives:

    • Donate to a charity in someone’s name.
    • Give homemade gifts.
    • Start a family gift exchange.
  1. Plan ahead. Set aside specific days for shopping, baking, visiting friends and other activities. Plan your menus and then make your shopping list. That’ll help prevent last-minute scrambling to buy forgotten ingredients. And make sure to line up help for party prep and cleanup.
  2. Learn to say no. Saying yes when you should say no can leave you feeling resentful and overwhelmed. Friends and colleagues will understand if you can’t participate in every project or activity. If it’s not possible to say no when your boss asks you to work overtime, try to remove something else from your agenda to make up for the lost time.
  3. Don’t abandon healthy habits. Don’t let the holidays become a free-for-all. Overindulgence only adds to your stress and guilt.

    Try these suggestions:

    • Have a healthy snack before holiday parties so that you don’t go overboard on sweets, cheese or drinks.
    • Get plenty of sleep.
    • Incorporate regular physical activity into each day.
  4. Take a breather. Make some time for yourself. Spending just 15 minutes alone, without distractions, may refresh you enough to handle everything you need to do. Find something that reduces stress by clearing your mind, slowing your breathing and restoring inner calm.

    Some options may include:

    • Taking a walk at night and stargazing.
    • Listening to soothing music.
    • Getting a massage.
    • Reading a book.
  5. Seek professional help if you need it. Despite your best efforts, you may find yourself feeling persistently sad or anxious, plagued by physical complaints, unable to sleep, irritable and hopeless, and unable to face routine chores. If these feelings last for a while, talk to your doctor or a mental health professional.