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Dealing with the holiday blues

Although the holidays are a time of joy and happiness for many, others struggle with mental health during the Christmas season.
mental health
Mental health suffers for many during the holiday season, and may be especially strained during COVID-19. File photo.

COCHRANE— The holiday season is a joyous time for many. A time when families gather to create happy memories, celebrate and share in some holiday cheer.

But for others, the holiday season is one where depression and anxiety can be heightened by the pressures faced during this time of year.

Eric Kang, registered psychologist and councillor at Westbrook Counselling Services in Cochrane, said the expectation to participate in the levity of the holiday season can be a cause of distress to some.

“There’s almost an expectation around, you know, this a time of celebration, of being with family and coming together and not everybody is in that position where they have people who they can convene with and spend that time with. Instead of it being a time of, perhaps, celebration, it’s a reminder of aspects of their life that they lack,” Kang said. “It can lead to, possibly, a feeling of despair or feeling more alone.”

This year will be especially difficult, as many people will miss out on the opportunity to visit with family and friends due to the COVID-19 public health restrictions in place.

The isolation is not the only thing that will cause distress among those that feel the holiday blues. Many of the distressing effects of the holiday season could be compounded by the stress of dealing with the existential uncertainty of the global pandemic.

“We’re being told to isolate ourselves, be at home, not get together. I think, especially at this time, it’s going to be difficult for people,” he said. “There’s a permeation of uncertainty amongst people. We’re being told to put safety at the top of the value system hierarchy. Not that I completely disagree with that, but safety does not come for free and we must sacrifice things in order to achieve safety."

Those sacrifices, like our social supports and physical contact, take a toll on the mental health of people, who are fundamentally social beings, Kang said.

“There are profound effects with being on your own and not being able to touch or see people in the same way. That changes our perception of the world, and we get a sense of safety from seeing and being with people. That combined with the fears people have around COVID and the virus and safety, those could be compounded.”

Thankfully, many who are feeling especially down this time of year have the means to reach out digitally to those around them. Even those distanced interactions can help to alleviate some of the negative emotions, and feelings of loneliness and isolation, Kang said.

“We’re being told to isolate, and I think that’s a good thing to do, but we do need to have social contact. It’s good to try and approximate what we can in terms of social interactions, even if we can’t be face to face with others,” Kang said.

Counselling or therapy are good options for many who are feeling depressed or lonely.

"It's important for people to express themselves and feel heard, and to externalize some of what is happening inside of themselves. If you're feeling lonely, being able to talk about the aspects that are leading to them feeling lonely— Which can go quite deep, loss of family and friends or decisions you have made in the past that you're reconciling— Being able to talk about these things can help you change the way that you see the past and can help you to cope with those feelings in the present, and also to change the trajectory of the decisions you make in the future," Kang said.

If you are feeling anxious, depressed, hopeless or if you have noticed that your mood is in a downward trajectory more so than it normally is around this time of year, it is important to check in with yourself and try to determine if you need to reach out.

“If you don’t have anybody at home there are support lines that you can call if you’re feeling distresses, which I think are really important. Being able to reach out to those and talk about what’s going on internally helps to alleviate some of the burden. Places like Health Link centres, help lines, are especially crucial during this time.”

Health Link can be reached by phone at 811, or toll-free at 1-866-408-5465. Alberta Health Services Mental Health Hotline can be reached at 1-877-303-2642, or online at

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