At this time of year people are reporting high levels of stress and depression, often resulting in suicide.
"Many reasons contribute to this problem. Separation or divorce means many people will be celebrating on their own for the first time. These are people who may not have already built up a new circle of friends", says Dr Colinda Linde, clinical psychologist in Johannesburg.
"People who have lost a loved one during the year will be particularly vulnerable the first Christmas on their own, unless they make plans well in advance".
"If this is your first Christmas without a loved one, plan ahead. You may want to be around others who knew the person, or completely away such as being on holiday to be in a different place. Money issues are also relevant at this time. For some people, already full schedules are just added to by lots of extra Christmas chores, shopping, cooking or booking travel plans. People with families may have to entertain for big family get togethers."
Financially Christmas is a very big issue with people often spending more money than they can afford and building up heavy credit card costs for January.
10 Action plans
- Make a plan to compensate for the fact that you will feel sad or lonely, if this is your first Christmas without a loved one. Plan to celebrate their life in a way that is meaningful for you: go to church, make a scrapbook, play their favourite music - but in a time frame that is reasonable and not all-encompassing.
- Remind yourself that Christmas depression is temporary and will soon be gone once you are back into a familiar routine - however, if you are feeling depressed most of the time, both pre- and post-Christmas, you need to tell your doctor or see a therapist.
- Watch what you eat and drink: a glass of wine is a pleasure but over-drinking can aggravate depression and eating sugar and carbohydrates in excess will only make depression worse.
- Have a positive attitude and try not to worry about things that are beyond your control.
- If you have unresolved family issues you may choose not to spend Christmas with your family this year. Tell family members well in advance what your new plans will be; or, if you have obligations you can't get out of consider limiting very clearly the time spent with them.
- Only spend what you know you can afford. If your finances are shaky, thoughtful and handmade gifts often offer more pleasure.
- Remember to exercise as usual: a few extra minutes a day can benefit your overall health. Do Yoga, Tai Chi or meditation and stretching exercises. What about a massage? Get plenty of rest, and keep to your usual sleep pattern each night.
- You may decide that you don't want to get involved with the usual round of Christmas parties and meals. If so, hospices, hospitals, children's homes and animal welfare charities all need extra help over Christmas and New Year, to allow their overworked staff some time with their families. Ring and offer well in advance and spend it with people a lot less fortunate.
- Increase positive contact. Although you may want to be alone, you may feel better if you try to take part in some activities you previously enjoyed with your family and friends. Try to avoid situations that may result in negative feelings.
- Regardless of the fact that we should "feel jolly and happy" over Christmas, many people are going to feel depressed and flat. If you have a family member or friend who is battling over Christmas and they don't want to or can't spend it with you, show them these suggestions or get them to ring the South African Depression and Anxiety Group's depression helpline on (011) 262 6396 or their suicide helpline on 0800 567567.
- (South African Depression and Anxiety Group, updated December 2008)