Watching Christmas television last night, I was struck by a couple of things: Firstly, the amazing pressure we are all under to buy buy buy this time of year, things that we probably don’t need or even want…and secondly, who on earth has the kind of Christmas that is presented on the television? No one seems to be even mildly lonely or depressed. Certainly no one seems to be feeling stressed or getting into arguments. Everyone is perfectly slim, beautifully dressed, and gliding through the season with effortless ease. This is NOT a realistic representation of our mid-winter festival!
I adore Christmas … and am a Christmas loon from mid November onwards, but my experiences, like everyone else’s, are never perfect. Over the years I have tried to shake off the notion that it’s OK not to be perfect and, even more importantly, it’s OK not to be OK.
For many of us it is a very positive time of year, but for others, the coming of the Christmas festivities is a time to be dreaded. Some are alone, and isolation and loneliness are that much more keenly felt in the holidays. The weight of the intense pressure, the cost, and the overall expectation is overwhelming even for those with family. Instead of the best time of year, it can be the absolute worst, a time of depression, loneliness and even suicidal thoughts.
Christmas is an even more challenging time for those struggling with a mental illness, and the enforced jollity can make low mood feel even more acute. Depression doesn’t take time off for the Christmas holidays, and it is a sad and ironic fact that some will feel more alone and depressed on Christmas Day than any other day of the year.
We are under so much pressure to be ‘happy’ at Christmas. There is a weighty expectation to have a wonderful time that seemingly isn’t there with other holidays. The Christmas message of perfect togetherness can be interpreted as a reproach to those who are feeling sad or lonely, or who have suffered loss, bereavement or associate Christmas with grief or loneliness.
Feelings of sadness and isolation can be experienced by the old and young alike, and also by those who seemingly have lots of friends and busy lives. We are in the darkest part of the year, there is very little natural light and SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) is extremely common. The fact that we have a mid-winter festival at all, deliberately placed at the end of December as an attempt at alleviating the gloom, underlines the issues of coping with the long months of winter darkness.
200,000 older people will spend Christmas alone this year and 1.5 million people over 65 consider Christmas to be the loneliest time of year. Young people also are not exempt from the stress of the season. The nagging feeling of not ‘fitting in’ or indeed, missing out, is increasingly common for the social media generation. Christmas and New Year is a flash point for suicides and many thousands experience suicidal thoughts.
Last Christmas, the Samaritans responded to more than 300,000 calls for help. Over the Christmas period over 1,650 Samaritans volunteers were on duty at Samaritans branches across the UK and Republic of Ireland. Each volunteer spoke to an average of 12 people per shift, with the callers struggling with mental and physical health, family issues, debt, relationship problems and isolation and loneliness.
The charity, which is available 24/7, 365 days a year, is asking people to donate £5 to help Samaritans continue to be there for those who need emotional support this year. To make a donation please visit
For those lucky enough not to suffer from depression, the pressure alone can be problematic: The expectation that Christmas needs to be perfect, from the decorations to the presents, the parties and the food. The media does its best to promote a particular view of what Christmas should look like, promoting a version very few of us can hope to achieve. Instead of the perfect tree, presents and a lunch Masterchef would be proud of, most of us will experience family arguments, burnt offerings and presents that may well get returned in January.
And let’s not forget that we are all caught up with the notion that looking perfect for the Big Day is a must. How many of us are racing around spending money on new clothing, accessories and hair and body treats in order to look our best.
The financial pressure is, of course, huge and probably the very hardest hit are parents. Children want expensive toys, branded clothing and the latest technology. None of it comes cheap. I’m sure we all (except those very few), experience concerns of where the extra money is coming from for all these extras in December, when wages are still relatively stagnant. Worse, January brings credit card bills through the letterbox, causing further pressure and stress.
So, as you raise a glass of fizz and enjoy Christmas with your family, think of those who are less fortunate, young and old who are feeling isolated and lonely. Donate or give your time to local charities and take the time to call a friend that you haven’t heard from in a while.
And if you are feeling the pressure of the season, give yourself a break. The perfect Christmas is a myth. Be grateful for what you have, don’t exceed your budget and don’t expect perfection. Keep it simple and remember it’s more about being thankful and enjoying the company of friends and family than it is about expensive gifts.
I’m not religious so the Christian side of Christmas doesn’t particularly resonate with me. I am however a big fan of Christmas as a vehicle for remembering that we are all part of the human race, that kindness and forgiveness toward humanity is important, and that the season should be more goodwill and less gluttony. Instead of trying to achieve the perfect Christmas through displays of wealth and ostentation, let us focus on loved ones and the importance of charity, generosity and consideration for those less fortunate than ourselves. ❤️
UK Samaritans : Tel: 116 123 or email email@example.com
US Samaritans: Tel: (877) 870-4673
“Probably the reason we all go so haywire at Christmas time with the endless unrestrained and often silly buying of gifts is that we don’t quite know how to put our love into words.” – Harlan Miller