I know Christmas should be a happy time but it fills me with dread.

I know I should be looking forward to Christmas with my husband and children. My son (age 1) and daughter (age 4) are very excited about Christmas but I just think of Christmas with dread. I had a difficult childhood but for the rest of the year I feel pretty well adjusted and happy most of the time. Last year I found Christmas difficult and I worry that this year will be much worse. On top of this I feel guilty that I may ruin my children’s Christmas because I don’t share their excitement.

Christmas depression is well known. It is not clear how many people are affected.

Several things may trigger Christmas depression:

  • Lack of sunlight
  • Memories of difficult times in one’s past
  • Excessive demands of Christmas
  • Excessive expectations to have a perfect Christmas
  • Losses that are more keenly felt at Christmas
  • Holding on to past slights
  • Too much alcohol or eating
  • Too little sleep and exercise
  • Gatherings where people argue

The winter solstice, the shortest day of the year, occurs near Christmas. The lack of light will trigger depression in some people. This is called Seasonal Affective Disorder and can be treated by increasing exposure to light. The easiest way to do this is to get outside and take a walk during the day when it is light. Even 20 minutes of walking can be very helpful. Often, busy schedules mean that the only time we are outside is when it is dark. Light therapy or anti depressant medication may also help.

Memories of difficult times in the past could interfere with enjoying Christmas. Maybe Christmas is when a father started drinking heavily. Or maybe Christmas was the occasion for arguments. It is normal to try and forget bad Christmases from one’s childhood.

Avoiding thinking about the past will cause problems. Some people find it very helpful to write down what they experienced. Or find a friend who will listen without interrupting. You can face the ghosts from Christmas past. Facing them will help put them to rest.

Many people, especially moms, have unrealistic demands placed on them at Christmas. Sometimes these demands are self imposed. Sometimes family or friends demand too much.

The need to have everything perfect is a huge expectation. Be realistic. Be gentle on yourself. Aim to get a few things done and let go of unrealistic demands. Decide on the two or three things that matter most to you about Christmas.

If you aim for a  perfect Christmas, you will drive yourself to misery. If we have realistic expectations about Christmas, we are more able to enjoy the little things.

Loved ones who have died or relationships that have been broken are often remembered at Christmas. Don’t try and push these sad feelings from your mind. It won’t work. It is OK to reminisce about losses. Spending 20 or 30 minutes a day on deliberate thought and remembrance may help.

For many, there are remembered problems that come up at Christmas. Maybe it is the rude way someone behaved or the fact that a present was not appreciated. Unlike the big issues from your past that should be faced, these slights and minor grievances can be let go of and left in the past, you will be able to start fresh.

Unfortunately, with all the Christmas parties, it is easy for people to overindulge. If you are feeling low, avoid anything more than a minimum amount of alcohol. It is a depressant. Alcohol also interferes with restful sleep.

Maybe it is a spouse or relative who drinks or eats too much at Christmas. It may help to calmly and quietly discuss this with him or her before it happens. “Uncle Jim, we really like to have you over at Christmas, but I don’t want the kids to see you drunk. We are going to serve non-alcoholic punch this year.” It may help to talk with your children about a problem like this beforehand. “Uncle Jim may drink too much. We will talk about it after he leaves.”

Eating in moderation will not only help the waistline, it will help your mood and your sleeping. Eating small amounts of Christmas goodies is fine. Don’t deprive yourself of everything.

Sleep is one of the most under rated aspects of life. Most of us are constantly sleep deprived. Sleep deprivation can also trigger weight gain. Getting a good night’s sleep will really make a difference.

If there is a gathering where you know there will be arguments and hard feelings, try to figure out how to manage it. Maybe you stay clear of those who are feuding. Don’t feel you have to solve other peoples’ problems. Don’t get drawn in as a peacemaker, unless there is a good chance it will work.

Take time for small things over the holidays. Play with your children. You may not be able to change the behaviour of others around you but really noticing the small things that make you happy during Christmas will help with sadness.

In summary, I encourage you to try to reduce Christmas stress. Talk to your husband about how he can help. Focus on taking good care of yourself so that you can help your family enjoy Christmas.

I have confidence that you will be able to manage. Even if you don’t really enjoy this Christmas, you can give your children good Christmas memories despite the things that make you sad or leave you stressed.

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