Christmas is a time of mixed feelings and emotions. It is a time I look forward too but it is also a difficult time. For many, Christmas is an added pressure, whether it is the commercialisation, extra commitment to social activities, a lonely time or a reminder of a bad experience.
Luckily for me, I am not materialistic so I do not find the commercial side (presents etc) a big strain but I can be affected at this time of year in three other ways.
- Social events
I suffer from social anxiety. I find I cope better with a meal out with a small group of friends compared to attending a large party. In fact, I am a StreetSource volunteer and I would rather do this than attend a New Year’s Eve party. This sounds contradictory as I am helping people who are out and about partying but in my mind, I am focussed on a job in hand and I am in control of the social commitment. That said, there are still other occasions where I can find myself getting worked up and panicking such as busy shopping centers. People laugh, but I am often ready for Christmas long before December arrives.
- Food & diet
How can food affect my depression? The simple answer here is extra sugar. Our diet changes completely at Christmas. We consume more chocolate, sweets and puddings as well as sugar filled drinks. I used to write about sugar harm for an old website of mine and in short, sugar messes with the reward system and causes highs and lows in our moods. A treat is good but not in high volume.
Despite suffering from Social anxiety, there are still plenty of other parts of Christmas I enjoy celebrating. There is the extra charity giving, Carol services, family time and some rest. That said, there is so much build up these days and Christmas is all over in a flash. Before you know it, January is here and the next three months can be hard. Winter is one of the worst seasons for anyone suffering from depression. The lack of daylight and cold weather causes havoc with the mind.
So how do I get round this?
Firstly, this is not fool proof for everyone, we of course all suffer differently and our levels of depression and mental health differ. That said, these steps have worked for me and I hope they do for you.
- Cut down on the sugary products. Since cutting out added sugar, I have lost weight and have a better clarity of mind. I personally stick to one treat a week which is normally a pudding.
- Tell your friends and family. People are generally more understanding than we think. My friends and loved ones know not to buy me confectionery. They know that I suffer from anxiety and understand that I can only tolerate so much. I was worried before talking to my friends that I would not be accepted anymore but we all walk different paths in life and at times face different struggles. True friends will understand and stay by your side. If someone does not, then they are not worth the worry.
- Take vitamin D supplements. Do speak to your doctor or pharmacist if you are on medication, have an underline illness or pregnant. I take vitamin D tablets to help boost the vitamin D we lose during the winter.
- Pace yourself. Life is not a race but to be enjoyed. We often (including myself) fall into the rat race trap and get carried away with how society dictates how we should live. Each and every one of us is individual. We are who we are and very often media perceptions tell such a different story from reality. The only perfect Christmas is actually what we perceive and not anyone else. The perfect Christmas is what we can afford and what we can personally produce. Never be pressured into keeping up with the Jone’s, as often this is not achievable.
- Never feel ashamed if you suffer from depression. Nearly a third of the population will suffer from this hidden disability some time during their lives. Do try to get out and about even if it’s just to the shops as you will be speaking to others and by doing so it can progress to better things.
As I have gone through my battle with depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts (the latter a rarity in the past) through the years, there has always been one thing that has stood out. That is to talk! I always felt alone through my battle but the first step to fighting was to open up. If you are suffering, speak to your GP or call a charity such as Mind on 0300 123 3393.