I'll be HOME for Christmas

The Aftermath of Christmas

 “It’s that time of the year again.”

What a silly statement with which to begin! EVERY day, if you think about it, can be described as “that time of the year.”

But somehow January seems to be a particularly difficult point in the calendar for many people. Christmas has come and gone, and if this was your first holiday season after the death of someone you loved and cared about, it can probably be best described as “Anything but Merry”.

Perhaps this time of year offers more challenges than any other. Christmas is often a time when people get together with family and friends. When you have lost someone you love, it can be a pretty stark reminder of the fact that this special someone will not be there this year.

But when the trees have been discarded and the stockings and decorations put away for another year, sometimes the “Post-Christmas Season” can be even more challenging. There can actually be a huge let down after Christmas. I read somewhere that the most depressing day of the year is actually January 24th, because it is then that the Christmas season CREDIT CARD bill comes in … usually depressingly high!

However any individual reacts to this season of the year, it’s important that we look after ourselves and be encouraged to find what is meaningful for us when we are feeling really low.

Added to the natural grief and depression we may feel, we can also be affected by a condition known as Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD, which is related to changes in seasons. More recently it has been described as “depression with a seasonal pattern” and is often thought to be linked to the limited amount of sunlight you are exposed to. That would explain why SAD begins and ends at about the same times every year, for most people their symptoms starting around December and continuing through the winter months.

People with the syndrome often feel tired and lethargic, and may seem withdrawn to family, friends and colleagues. Other symptoms may include:

  • Irritability
  • Tiredness or low energy
  • Feeling depressed most of the day, nearly every day
  • Feeling hopeless or worthless
  • Losing interest in activities once enjoyed
  • Having problems with sleeping or oversleeping
  • Having difficulty concentrating
  • Problems getting along with other people
  • Appetite changes, especially craving foods high in carbohydrates
  • Weight gain

And as we know, many of these symptoms are also commonly experienced in grief.

One of my “life lessons” in counselling has been the realization that there is a “reason for every reaction.”  We need to understand the why behind the behavior, before rushing to find the how to alleviate the symptoms. Reactions never happen in a vacuum. So we must ask why we may be displaying SAD symptoms. Sometimes, encouraging family participation in counselling or medical assistance can be helpful, not just to learn how to cope with a loved one’s behaviors, but to understand the reasons behind them.

So, if you are affected by SAD, or even just feeling “down” this time of the year, here are some things that can help:

Daily exercise

Try to get outside as often as possible especially during the cold winter months. Regular physical activity helps fight both fatigue and depression, especially if you exercise during the day or near light sources. Even weak sunlight and or light reflected off snow can increase your exposure to light. Outdoor light, even when the sky is overcast, is often brighter than “light boxes” which are commonly and effectively used in treating this syndrome.

Find an outdoor hobby that you can enjoy throughout the winter months such as skating, skiing, hockey, curling or walking. Arrange your home or office to maximize your exposure to light. Open blinds; sit closer to bright sunlit windows for reading, eating, or working while at home or in the office.

Take a holiday and seek the sun

We all have to endure long Canadian winters … so if you can, go to some sunny resort or take a cruise to the Caribbean or somewhere to enjoy some better weather and even more exposure to brighter sunlight.

Be aware of your moods

Self-awareness can alleviate some of the feelings of distress during these seasons. Be aware of your moods and energy level and attempt to maintain perspective. Above all, remember that SAD is not your fault … it is a natural condition that can be effectively treated.

Have some fun

It does not indicate that you miss the person any less if you have some fun. It’s important to know that it’s ok to relax and even have a laugh. But it may also help to take some time out, to give yourself permission to grieve and to be feel sad when you think of your loved one.

Some suggestions of things you can do include: 

  • Find a quiet spot to remember all the good things about the person you are missing
  • Go and do something that you used to do together
  • Write a letter to the person
  • Revisit that favourite spot you went to together
  • Share some of the memories with friends or in a support group
  • Go on vacation to a warmer climate for a week … that will not change the situation, but it will give you a respite. It is said that 10 minutes in the sun enhance your vitamin D levels
  • Go for a walk, listen to music, go shopping, have a massage, or hang out with friends. Do something … anything. Do one thing today, then maybe one more thing, and before you know you will feel better about yourself if not the situation.

I love this quote by Albert Camus:

“In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer. And that makes me happy. For it says that no matter how hard the world pushes against me, within me, there’s something stronger, something better, pushing right back.”

Hang in! Spring is on the way.