The Black Dog at the Christmas Table

It’s the most wonderful time of the year. It’s a time of love and joy and everyone is happy and smiling and nothing could possibly go wrong in this time of magic. Right? Then why are you feeling snowed under, like you want to crawl under the duvet and not return until someone promises to eradicate that Mariah Carey song from the earth? At a time of so much happiness surrounded by family and friends, it can be easy to fall into the trap of thinking the black dog, depression, the blues, whatever you want to call them, will take holiday leave and allow you to enjoy the tiny bits of sparkle and magic at the end of the year. Unfortunately, he’s not into taking holidays much, and this time of year, he can sometimes pull a lot of overtime. You are not alone.

Christmas, or the holiday season in general regardless of religious beliefs, has been pin pointed as a big trigger for depression and anxiety. This is somewhat in opposition to the general feel-good themes thrown at us from the media and commercial sources about what the holiday is about. While the statistic about it being the most prominent time for suicides has been debunked, it is definitely a time where the normally small triggers can all join together and make it a rather stressful, anxious and depressing time of the year.

Despite Christmas being a time of joy and excitement for most, it can also be an incredibly lonely time of year, even if you are surrounded by people. Music tells you to think about the ones you’ve loved, even those who gave your heart away on Stephens Day. If you’re separated by place, time or even death from those you love, it can make it all the harder to feel the seasonal cheer. You may feel bitter, or feel bad for “bringing other people down” so try to internalise the feelings. This only makes them worse when they do eventually come out. According to a recent survey of 1600 adults conducted by the Samaritans, 1 in 6 people find it the loneliest time of the year. Nearly a quarter of them feel that the festive season makes their problems feel worse.

It’s a very stressful time, as anybody who has attempted to head into town the Saturday before Christmas will attest to. People seem to lose the run of themselves at this time of year. They let stress get to them, lose all polite manners they may have had the other 11 months of the year. Lots wind up saying things they’d never normally dream of saying. It can be claustrophobic, even for the most zen of people, so if you’re already on the anxious side it can be pure and utter hell.

I deign to think of the stress levels of the people who fold the clothes in Penneys. At this time of year I imagine they are found behind a shelf, rocking silently as not to kill people for messing up the display they finished 5 seconds previous. Work life balance can somewhat go out the window at this time of year. For those working in retail it is especially manic, as for one month only it is all hands on deck for longer shifts and less days off. Combining this with feelings of guilt for missing family events, school plays etc can make even the cheeriest person feel on edge.

Although in general, taking time to reflect on the year that has gone by can be a positive thing, it can also stir up some feelings which aren’t as happy and can lead your mind to a whole other place. Financial troubles, relationship woes or breakdown and a number of other things can be playing on the mind as the dark evenings roll in.

It’s important to talk about these problems and not hold them in for the sake of the festive season – with a friend, family member or even numerous help lines which are available for that exact purpose. Understandably this can be more difficult if it is the first time you have asked for help. It can feel demoralising, like you’re a failure for giving in to it, and a million other horrible thoughts (all of which certainly went through my head at the time when I was asking for help).

If you don’t feel like you can talk to a friend or family member at the moment in confidence, the Samaritans are always there at the other end of the phone. Their freephone number 116 123 is open 24/7, and on the other end there is someone to listen without judgement who can hopefully get you to a place which is brighter and less full of dark thoughts. They provide an incredible service, manned by thousands of volunteers who all have one goal: to be there for those who need to talk.

This Christmas, if that black dog comes a knocking for Christmas dinner, it might not be possible to slam the door in his face. Talk to others about how you feel. Take time to yourself and try to be less harsh on yourself. In doing so, you may reduce the impact of it’s stay. It’s important to talk about these things – by not talking, we allow the stigma to build up around it. Never feel like you’re making a big deal out of nothing, or that you can’t talk because people will think you’re just airing dirty laundry in public. Find someone you trust, or a trusted helpline like the Samaritans, and let it out.

It’s a good idea to check in with your GP during this time – even with their reduced opening hours. They may be able to help in other ways than counselling. Also, remember that alcohol, while for some a major part of Christmas festivities, also serves as a depressant which can linger for days after a night out – so be mindful of your alcohol intake if you are feeling down over the next few weeks.

This Christmas, stay safe and be good to yourself. Don’t let the dark thoughts take over; let them out in any way you can safely. It’s always good to talk and to ensure that you stay healthy and happy coming into the new year.

For more information about the Samaritans, check out their website here. For more resources both national and local, check out this collection from Mental Health Ireland – hopefully there will be something to give you solace there.

*****

Follow BadMammy on Facebook, where she’s running from her own Black Dog and banning him from her festivities.
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