Christmas Blues & Family Stress

Christmas tree, decorations, gifts, the holiday atmosphere is synonymous with family reunions, fun and good mood.  Nevertheless, nostalgia, the anxious need to display a feigned and normal joy, the race for gifts and the end-of-year questioning mean that holidays can be stressful. Beyond its religious symbolism, Christmas confronts us with the relation to our own family whether it is near, geographically distant or simply absent. This period reminds people of their isolation and of their family dysfunctions. While everything sparkles around you, you have an exacerbated feeling of loneliness, of being out of step and wondering how to fight against this blow of blues.

When family bonds are lacking, the holidays exacerbate the feeling of loneliness.

The individual feels alone when he is with others, and when he is alone, he wants human contact. We resolve this dilemma using our loneliness to help us sort out the different bonds we weave in our life and nurture the affective bonds with those we love who make life worth living, despite our unconditional loneliness in the face of death. Our salvation goes through that hence the disappointment, depression even despair when it does not work. We do not exist alone, we need others to become individuals and it is only as an individual that we can love others.

In traditional societies, no one was ever alone, but the community had a scrutiny right over everything. We live in a society of individuals where the community and institutional framework tend to fade. Individual liberty aspires to self-sufficiency and absolute independence on the one hand, and to selective affinities, love and passion on the other, as never before in human history. That’s why the relationship to loneliness in our individualistic society is deeply ambiguous, both paradise and hell. We defend our private sphere in which no one has the right to intervene to protect our intimacy, but the price to pay is loneliness. Becoming aware of having made this choice can help to accept the counterpart.

The holiday’s family reunion revives family tensions.

The mutation of the family model means that the family has moved from a community group to a sum of individualities. Spousal relationships have become more fragile, but the relationships between parents / children and grandparents / grandchildren are highly invested. Intergenerational solidarity, help of all kinds, regular contacts are extremely dynamic and important in our daily lives. The family remains the best defense against loneliness.

That’s why for those who see their families once a year, there is the stress of seeing tensions emerge between political discussions and comparisons of respective successes. It’s the brother or sister with whom we have been in conflict for years, the parent who is always there to remind that one of his children still doesn’t have children or even a partner, the mother-in-law with whom we have always been in conflict, the mourning that punctuated everyone’s journey, etc. Christmas, in its dimension of gathering comes to crystallize all these sufferings and unspoken, and for some grown-up children to keep them in the certainty of being either the ugly duckling of the family, the one who is less successful than his eldest. Then for some, there is also the need to maintain appearances whatever the cost, sometimes at the price of a real somatization that makes it not just the feast that is indigestible. No one is unaware that the grievances that one tries to hide always end up coming out and often at the time of the dessert when the alcohol came to disinhibit most of the guests.

In which family we will choose to spend the holidays can become an insoluble puzzle sometimes that can bring strong tensions in couples. The necessity to communicate, to identify the needs and fears of each, can often help defuse tensions. Some couples have chosen to go elsewhere for holidays, a way to put the necessary distance and not having to choose at the risk of conflict with their parents. Or, we do not celebrate Christmas with family but Christmas with families: once with parents, once with grandparents, declinable as many times as there are parents in broken and reconstituted families. There is a kind of pluralization, of complexification of rites within families.

Mourning the ideal family is far from easy, but it is an essential psychic work or we risk seeing the same pains reappear at each holidays season. We must avoid having an idyllic vision that summarizes this period to the strengthening of family ties. There is an ambivalence between the joy of seeing the family and the difficulty of living together.

Nostalgia of an enchanted childhood memory

Affliction for some, happiness for others, Christmas is also the reactivation of emotional memories related to childhood. The Christmas spirit is also this ability to find your inner child’s soul, to marvel at the enchanted windows, or puppets that come alive. Nevertheless for some, Christmas trees and garlands can leave a feeling of sadness, even anxiety in the face of the collective hysteria and shopping frenzy. We want to relive this Christmas, whether lived or fantasized by the child we once were, and find our idealized family matrix.  The belief in Santa Claus and the imaginary function that it represents, the excitement of opening his gifts at the foot of the tree, all which is gone. Growing up forced each on of us to give up his beliefs, and the image of the good Santa Claus bringing presents is far from being that of the good protective father.

The end of the year is also a time of reflection on the past year. Choices and decisions that have been made or not, pleasant or unpleasant events that have occurred throughout the months are reviewed. Corresponding to the winter solstice when the light prevails over the darkness, it allows for a time of mourning and of hope for the new year still full of possibilities and promises.

Consumption and spiritual thirst

The loss of Christmas’ religious meaning could explain the increasing number of people affected by the Christmas blues. Everyone in his Christmas preparation thinks about gifts budget, recipes, decoration, exchange of checks, etc., but we forget the midnight mass. There is a loss of meaning and a real gap between what society proposes and the needs of the individual. At Christmas it’s difficult to get out of the surrounding materialism, of the consumerism that can’t fill our spiritual thirst. Debauchery of consumption makes us focus on everything we lack. Whether we are a believer or not, the sacred dimension of Christmas can be seen as an attempt to get closer to this fairy and magical symbol that is the Christmas spirit. The famous Christmas spirit is not dead, it just needs to be recreated in accordance with what we are living today.

Consider Christmas differently

Some people do not find their place in the middle of these blissful faces and feel all the more isolated in this universe of widespread commodification where the commercial dimension has exploded. During this holiday season, the fear of disappointment, of not being up to scratch or of being criticized is very strong. The pressure of gifts and the organization of holiday meals, often puts the budget in rout while requiring imagination. So why not to reinvent the rules in our context?

Make Christmas a personalized holiday, create your decorations from recycled packaging materials. You will have the pleasure of creativity, the happiness of doing something with your hands, and a sense of accomplishment in saving the planet. Far from the superficiality of malls, up-cycling will give you a sense of accomplishment. If you have children, they will enjoy admiring their work on display too. The money saved with DIY decorations could be gifted to a person in need, like the elderly we see doing odd jobs in Singapore. Do it with your children as an exercise of compassion and respect. Find the Christmas spirit again, a universal love, make Christmas more meaningful for you and your children.

It’s important to understand why we reject Christmas and New Year festivities

There is no magic recipe to approach the festivities in joy but there may be ways to make this emotional period a meeting place with oneself and with those we love. Reflecting on our fears and what we want to discuss with our family is a great start. Being aware of all the anxiety factors will help keep them at bay mentally. Take care of yourself, if you are happy you will help relax the atmosphere, give back meaning and find the Christmas spirit.

If you feel that despite these tips, you apprehend the holiday season, discussing with a psychologist can help you see things more clearly. What’s important is that you too find your happiness in this holiday season. You can contact Dr. Elefant-yanni, Clinical Psychologist / Psychotherapist, by clicking this link.

Related: find out more about online therapy