Think Xmas loneliness is your cross to bear? You’re not alone
Social media worsens seasonal depressive disorder, say experts, but it could also work the other way
What if, instead of celebrating, you’re so depressed you’d rather bury Christmas?
It’s a common feeling at this time of the year as a result of family feuds, relationship breakups or loneliness.
Nozipho Mkize, 40, from Durban, expects to have an unhappy Christmas due to financial difficulties, which means she will be empty-handed when she arrives in the rural Transkei for her annual holiday.
“I normally do a lot of shopping before I go home, buying clothes for my nieces and nephews. Every year they look forward to presents from their ‘favourite aunt’, as they call me,” she said.
“After Christmas we usually go to East London or the Wild Coast to continue with festive season celebrations, but this year things will be different, as I’m in debt due to a building project which escalated beyond my means. So it’s going to be a very sad festive season for me.”
According to Sue Levy, a psychoanalyst and trauma specialist, loneliness is a “trigger around major events like Christmas. Shame associated with poverty is another huge trigger.”
The SA Depression and Anxiety Group (Sadag) expects the usual seasonal spike in calls related to loneliness, particularly from the elderly, and anxiety linked to the holidays.
At this time of the year, it also fields pleas for help from people with mental illness who feel vulnerable due to many mental health professionals being on holiday.
As many as one in six South Africans suffers from anxiety, depression or substance-use problems. Research suggests that more than 40% of people living with HIV have a mental disorder, while more than 40% of pregnant women are depressed, and one in three women suffers from postnatal depression.
The influence of social media has added layers of complexity to the seasonal depressive disorder, say experts. Kayla Phillips from Sadag said: “It can make it seem like others are having the ideal festive season … whether due to holiday destination, family time or gifts. This can seem so different to our own life. It may look like everyone is having the best time except us. This can be a very lonely space.”
But Levy said it could also work the other way. “Social media can be hugely supportive via group chats and simply linking in across space and time. Simply engaging with live input can be a distraction. Over Christmas time it can be very helpful.”
Clinical psychologist Ilana Edelstein said a lot of social networks tended to misrepresent experiences of the festive season by presenting everything as perfect. People tended to post about happy times, making those who are experiencing negative emotions feel more isolated and possibly worse off.
“Social media often provides an idealised and unrealistic picture of how Christmas should look like. There is an emphasis on abundant food, family unity and expensive gifts,” she said.
“If you don’t have this, you may feel ashamed and that you have failed. Fortunately, there are also some responsible and informative social media resources which offer a more balanced perspective and can also serve as a resource to help people who are going through negative emotions, cope.” To seek help or counselling over holiday period including Christmas and New Year’s Day, you can contact Sadag on: 011 262 6396 or toll-free suicide line: 0800 12 13 14 – between 8am and 8pm.
Tips to deal with depression and negative feelings Exercise such as walking and running help change brain chemistry and is restorative.
Be positive by remembering that bleak feelings will pass.
Avoid alcohol and drugs, as they can cause depression.
Meditation, yoga and prayer can be helpful.
Getting enough sleep, eating properly and listening to your body are a good foundation for mental health.
Set boundaries: not everyone enjoys being around friends and family for days. Have family for a day instead of a weekend.
Have realistic expectations.
Seek professional help if you are not coping emotionally or mentally.