‘Tis almost the season to be jolly. Well, for most of you anyway. But for many people it’s a time when we really begin to struggle. For me personally, the festive season brings along a raft of new pressures and challenges. The biggest one being the onset of Seasonal Affective Disorder.
It’s a strange thing really. I’ve always quite openly said that I prefer the Autumn and the Winter to the Spring and the Summer. I enjoy the cosy evenings inside in front of the telly. I enjoy wrapping up warm and going for a weekend walk in the crisp, cold air. I love the comfort foods like casseroles, roast dinners and crumbles and I adore sitting in front of the roaring open fire in my local with a few beers.
So why then, if I love the colder seasons so much does my mental health take a nosedive?
All medical evidence points to a lack of natural sunlight during the winter months. I guess I can see where they’re coming from. We’re lucky to get eight hours of light in general at this time of year, let alone the type of bright, intense sunlight that beams down during the height of summer for most of the day. Then of course you spend the majority of those light hours inside under artificial lights so you don’t really feel any of the benefits.
But I think there’s another reason.
I’ve been watching a lot of Christmas films the past few weeks. Many of them appalling TV movies that wouldn’t have a hope of making it into the cinema. But they all have one key thing in common.
They all feature – in some form or another – a big family Christmas gathering. A seasonal get together where multiple generations of the same family spend the festive period together as one. Eating, drinking and playing games. Exchanging gifts which have had some actual thought put into them. Enjoying each others company and appreciating the effort that each person has made to be there.
To me this is a completely alien concept. But like the aforementioned movies, the whole ideal of a perfect Family Christmas is something that is pushed heavily onto us by the more general media. Be it television, radio, newspapers or magazines. Even the retailers try to sell the idea to us with their promotions and advertising. It’s shoved in your face and rammed down your throat from the moment the barbeques are put back away at the end of Summer.
Growing up I never experienced a Christmas day surrounded by my entire extended family. It just didn’t happen. There always seemed to be this strange disconnection between my side of the family and everybody else that I’ve never understood.
Not that I didn’t enjoy Christmas day when I was a child. Far from it. I have some lovely memories of early Christmas’s back in the 80’s and early 90’s. But they never seemed to match the picture of the perfect seasonal experience that was painted by the people I knew at the time and the influencers around me.
I guess that’s why I’m not really that fussed about Christmas too much now. I’m so used to it just being my partner and myself on Christmas day that it’s just become the norm. I’m not even fussed about presents any more because at almost 40 years old, I’ve got everything I need. And if there’s something I do want I’ll just go and buy it myself. If it gets to the point in your life where the only thing you think of to buy for or receive from someone is a gift voucher then you might as well just save your money and buy whatever it is yourself. Think about it. It makes sense and it’s true.
No, Christmas day for me is a simple affair and I’m happy with that. A nice dinner, too much chocolate and far too much to drink.
But that’s the thing. I’m fine with how my festive season stacks up mostly, (Although sometimes I do wonder “What if?”) but for so many people the pressure is piled on more and more by those that just don’t matter. We’re all meant to be attending countless numbers of Christmas parties, (The absolute horror!) and finding money we haven’t got to buy presents for everyone from the postman to the supermarket cashier’s dog. And we’re all supposed to be having a great time doing it all, with a permanent forced smile on our faces. Because that’s what we’re told we’re supposed to do. But really, we should be ignoring all this forced frivolity and festivity and just doing the things that we want to do, with those that we want to do them with.
Christmas shouldn’t be about forcing yourself to do things to make other people happy. Your own happiness and mental wellbeing and that of those closest to you is the most important thing to remember at this and any other time of year. Don’t let the media tell you what to do. Do what makes you happy, and put your own mental health first.