There’s no getting away from the fact that December in the Northern hemisphere is a fairly bleak time. It’s 11 a.m. as I write this, but my room is dark and rain is set to fall steadily for most of the day. Every year about now I do the same thing. I check the calendar and will it to get to the winter solstice, December 21st. This is the shortest day. I know I won’t see anything tangible for weeks, but that doesn’t matter because I know that from December 21st the nights are getting shorter.
But then comes Christmas. No more time for checking the calendar because it’s all hands on deck. There’s the build up of planning and preparing, followed by days of activity, and then it’s over. The feasting stops, relatives go home, and the Christmas tree seems to look just a little forlorn. The period just after the festive season hits people in different ways. I know that for some it’s a relief. For me it’s tinged with sadness. The house goes very quiet and those long, cold, dark days are still hanging around. I also know for a fact that some people find the period after Christmas a particularly grim time. Even if they’ve paid attention to all the advice about keeping Christmas in perspective they can’t help but feel a dramatic mood slump.
Avoiding Post-Christmas Gloom
There are all sorts of potential reasons why you may experience a mood might slip after Christmas and you’ll probably know the causes better than me. The run up to Christmas can have a way of putting low moods on hold because there are so many distractions. Once over, the moods return and the prospect of another year, with the same routines and issues, becomes more prominent. However, I’m not going to list all the possible causes because that’s not going to help you. Instead, here are my tips that might just help to head off post-Christmas gloom and provide a more positive focus.
As I know only too well, the build up to Christmas can be all consuming. My brain seems to call time on forward planning and I think it’s one of the reasons I’m left twiddling my thumbs once it’s over. After a lifetime of handing out advice to others you’d think I’d know better, and this year I do! The urgency to plug my post-Christmas gap comes partly from the fact that I’ve just lost my faithful old dog. He suffered a severe stroke and was put to sleep just a couple of hours later. What a horrible empty space this has left. Anyone who has ever owned a dog knows exactly how it feels when a pet dies. I’m using distraction as a means of coping and I don’t want to be caught short after Christmas.
My immediate plans after Christmas are to visit some relatives, arrange to meet up with an old friend, and sort something out for my birthday in January. Weather permitting, I’ll be getting in lots of walks, and I’ll be figuring out my next book, and doing articles. As a man of a certain age I now play golf, or try to, and that also gets me moving and socialising. In other words I have put things in place rather than let the post-Christmas thing catch me out.
I suppose a plan is a bit like a resolution, only I’ve stopped making these. I prefer a bit of fluidity and flexibility in my life and there’s something about the word resolution that sounds so very firm and unforgiving. Actually, I did come across this article by Jane Collingwood on Psychcentral.com, which provides lots of good advice about ways to stay resolved. Maybe, I’ll check back on this as a part of my planning list.
Yes, I did say list, and yes, I do make them. It’s all very well having a head full of passing ideas but they won’t come to much if you’re determined to ignore them. The thing about lists is they not only act as reminders they prompt you into taking action over things that might be a little more complex. Some of my ideas involve other people, and some of their plans involve me, so we need to coordinate. My list works alongside my calendar and before I know it the slots begin to fill. But I don’t want to give you the impression that my life is a hectic whirl of activity, because it isn’t. If I had to describe it I guess I’d say it’s measured, planned, fairly predictable and only sometimes hectic.
I began this article by stating that Christmas affects people in different ways. My focus has been on getting past this in people who feel the gap, or who perhaps feel mildly depressed after Christmas has passed. However, I don’t want to minimise the effect of Christmas depression because I know that for some of you this will be a deeply distressing time, perhaps full of painful memories. For you, my hope is that you seek treatment. Depression is not a personal indulgence or a weakness in character, it is an illness, a treatable one, with various treatment options. But you must first allow yourself to be treated, and I sincerely hope you will do this for yourself.
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Jerry Kennard, Ph.D., is a chartered psychologist and associate fellow of the British Psychological Society. Jerry’s clinical background is in mental health and, most recently, higher education. He is the author of various self-help books and is co-founder of positivityguides.net.