The festive season is usually a time of joy and celebration, but for many it is the one time of the year where they can no longer run away from two “despicable guests”: stress and depression.
And it is no wonder, with all the dizzying demands of the end of the year, says Switzerland-based psychologist Robyn Williams.
While depression can occur at any time of the year, the stress and anxiety during the months of November and December may cause even those who are usually content to experience loneliness and a lack of fulfilment.
Agnes Malebogo (35) from Galeshewe in Kimberley is a mother of two boys. Every year, the festive season brings her the unwanted gift of anxiety as she worries how she can make the holidays more special for her kids.
“Single moms don’t have the luxury of breaking,” she says. “As a mom of two, any money left over from the basics, like food, I spend it on medication and Christmas clothes.”
“When it comes to being a mother, I have no regret or shame. But there is always that voice in my head that makes me feel like I am failing.”
For Mase Mookapilo (29) going back home to Kimberley after a long year of hustling and sweating in Johannesburg is anything but joyous. Probing questions about her recent weight gain, lack of marriage proposals and kids often take a toll on her emotional well-being when she is home.
She is considering skipping this year’s family festivities.
Stand firm, stand together
While isolating oneself may sound like a good idea over the festive season, Williams warns that it could increase your chances of depression.
“As humans, we’ve evolved to be social creatures by nature and constantly need the feedback from others about our own behaviours, enjoyment in the form of doing something you love and being with people you enjoy spending time with.
“We all differ in how much we need to spend time with others. By isolating yourself, you forfeit these kinds of interactions which brings joy and the necessary feedback from our own behaviour, at first you may not feel up to seeing anybody, then you decide to stay in, and you do fewer things that bring you joy.
“Because of this lack of joy in life, your negative thoughts increase, and you feel even less up to spending time with others and doing things that bring you joy. So, you do less, which obviously leads to you wanting to do even less. And so, it goes on until you feel the situation is hopeless.”
Self-care is fundamental during this period. And it does not have to come in the form of bath bombs or scented candles.
“Self-care is extremely important. It may not seem accessible to many people but try and find those moments in the day where it’s just about you. Even if just for five minutes.
Know your triggers
According to the South African depression and anxiety group, 17 million South Africans are currently dealing with mental illness.
Feelings of isolation and loneliness also tend to be heightened during the holidays. While festive depression is not an official clinical diagnosis, the holiday season is full of potential depression triggers, says Williams.
• changes in appetite or weight;
• changes in sleep patterns;• depressed or irritable mood;
• difficulty concentrating;• feelings of worthlessness or guilt;
• feeling more tired than usual;
• feeling tense, worried, or anxious; and
• loss of pleasure in doing things you used to enjoy