How to handle the pressure to be 'happy' at Christmas
The expectation for Christmas to be a 'happy' season can put a lot of pressure on young people struggling with their mental health. Becky shares how it's okay to be sad at Christmas.
There's a big focus on happiness at Christmas time, and when I was suffering with depression, it would make me feel a huge pressure to fit in with everyone else’s joy. Unknowingly, friends and family would make me feel isolated as I found myself pushed to put on my ‘happy face’ so that I didn’t affect anyone else’s enjoyment of the time of year.
At the time of my low mood, I was working as a waitress in a restaurant where I was accompanied by non-stop Christmas tunes and part of my job was to be the smiley girl that greeted customers as they arrived for their festive family meals. Constant effort to meet mood expectations can be exhausting - I would wake up tired and go to bed exhausted. The phrase I would hear all too often and dread was, “Cheer up Becky, it’s Christmas”.
Don’t bottle it up
Sometimes it feels difficult to talk about how you are feeling at Christmas because you don’t want to bring anyone down at this time of year. Throughout my depression, I would talk to my counsellor and use the support around me in the form of my family. My counsellor would make little goals seem achievable and help me to understand why I was feeling the way I was.
Talking was so important to me, as I wanted to try and help those close to me understand why I wasn’t looking forward to Christmas. It would shock them, as they couldn’t imagine not being happy at Christmas, but for them to even just be aware of how I was feeling helped a lot – even if they didn’t understand why.
Love yourself (because you’re pretty awesome!)
In the Christmas holidays, I would focus on self-love to look after myself when things were most difficult. Whether this meant doing my nails or simply having some time set aside to read my favourite book, little things make a difference.
It’s okay not to be okay
Something I came to terms with after my second Christmas with depression is that it's okay to be sad. At Christmas, I would feel only a few little moments of happiness amongst the lowness I was feeling, but that's okay. Not everybody’s Christmas season is the same and for those few moments where my eyes found their sparkle, I was so proud.
My recovery was always slow, but I was fighting, and I was changing, and small successes reminded me that there is light at the end of tunnel. How low I was feeling would not last forever. I think it is important to accept that recovery will not be overnight, it takes time. But, it is this reliance and determination to keep fighting for happiness that makes you a strong, admirable young person. At Christmas, and at all other times of year, remember that you are worth it, and this will get better.
Need to Talk?
If you're having a difficult time over Christmas or the holidays, here are a list of helplines and websites where you can find information, help or just a listening ear from someone who gets it.