Why do I always feel depressed after Christmas?
For some people feeling depressed after Christmas is a state of mind that they come to expect every year. But why do some people get depressed after Christmas?
Firstly I want to make two things clear. I’m talking about low mood after Christmas, and one that starts to lift with the New Year, and with any return to work or routine. This very different to clinical depression. If you’re worried that you or a loved one may have depression then please use the NHS self- assessment tool, and arrange to see a GP.
Secondly I’m not talking about Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), where the change in light levels and the length of the days, has an impact on people’s mood.
So, why are some people prone to low mood after Christmas? For the majority it’s about one or more of the following
Unmet and unrealistic expectations. People can feel that they’re expected to have a perfect Christmas – to get everyone exactly the right presents, and to see everyone and keep them all happy. The gap between this and reality can be difficult. Stop aiming for a an unachievable ideal – remember to aim instead for “Happy, not perfect”.
Guilt about behaviour or spending. We can feel guilty about our behaviour after Christmas. Even if we’ve not rowed with family members, or not avoided someone who’s bereaved, we can still feel guilty – perhaps about someone else we didn’t visit, or about an overlooked present. And it’s no shock to hear that people can feel obliged to spend too much as well.
Rumination. Time off at Christmas can lead to reflection – and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. However too much reflection can easily turn into rumination, and the excessive picking over of our behaviour and experiences.
What can I do to stop feeling depressed after Christmas?
The first thing is to avoid the three causes above – don’t set yourself unrealistic ambitions about Christmas, or New Year’s resolutions; tackle your feelings of guilt, and what they may say about your self-esteem; and make sure that you don’t fall back on rumination.
If you do find yourself experiencing that post-Christmas slump though there are practical steps that you can take.
Don’t forget the basics – sleep, diet, and activity. Remember that a healthy diet, enough sleep, and keeping physically active throughout the week are all essential for our mood. Don’t neglect them over Christmas, especially if you’re struggling emotionally.
Sort out your finances. Money worries are a common contributor to low mood and anxiety. This can be even worse after Christmas, and any visits to the New Year sales. Tackle this head on – look at your outgoings and your income, and make long-term and short-term plans. Whilst this might be uncomfortable it’s nothing compared to the over discomfort of unfocused worrying for months to come.
Plan to make next Christmas better. Whatever has made you feel resentful, or frustrated, or sad this Christmas take time to think how it could be better next year. Plan how you’re going to make that happen – who will you need to speak to, when will you that, and what skills do you need to learn or improve.
Realistic resolutions. Make realistic resolutions that will motivate you. Base them on systems rather than goals, as you’ll be able to see success much more quickly. And think about making resolutions for three months at a time, rather than for an entire year away.