Dear Dr Gray,
I am worried that there is something wrong with me. I really didn’t enjoy Christmas, if I’m honest, I never do. I am surrounded by my family, have time off work and pretty much spend the whole time counting the days until I can return to normality.
This makes me feel really depressed, everyone else is having a wonderful time and spends all year looking forward to it and I dread it then spend the time feeling depressed and anxious that I am not like everyone else. Is there something wrong with me?
Susan – Richmond, Surrey.
First of all let me reassure you that you not the only person to feel this way about Christmas, in fact, it is a reasonably common experience to not enjoy this time of the year. It is usually the case that most experiences are more complex than they first appear and Christmas is no exception.
Christmas presents us with a number of challenges that together can leave us feeling quite anxious and depressed, especially if we aren’t expecting to feel that way.
The first of these challenges is the ‘family challenge’; at Christmas we usually end up spending an extended amount of time with family and as most of us have a reasonably complex relationship with our family, this usually presents us with a range of emotionally demanding situation that need to be negotiated, time with our family is rarely a Disney movie.
The second of these challenges is the ‘free time’ challenge, unstructured time is never what it is cracked up to be, as a species we like routine and predictability, it makes us feel safe and in control meaning that the idea of being released from the daily grind is usually better than the reality.
Free time can leave us feeling lethargic, anxious and sometimes even depressed as our days lack goal oriented activities and a sense of achievement. The final challenge is the ‘unrealistic expectations’ challenge; at Christmas we are expected to have a fantastic time, we are surrounded by images in the media of merriment, this is a recipe for disappointment, experiences are never all one thing either all good or all bad, and Christmas with its surplus of unstructured family time is bound to be at best, bitter sweet.
So basically Susan, please do not worry that whilst you are feeling anxious and depressed everyone else is having a ball, we are not. When we feel depressed and anxious we tend to compare ourselves negatively to others, only seeing how they are better off than us, try to redress the balance and listen out for others who have also had a less that picture perfect Christmas and next year bear in the mind the 3 challenges of Christmas when planning how you are going to spend the holiday.