Be it Christmas, New Year, Valentine’s Day, the festive season always exacerbates the underlying emotions that may lie buried within us.
In the original classic tale ‘The Grinch who stole Christmas’ by Dr Seuss, the Grinch is about a grumpy character who hates Christmas, the holiday season and all the busyness of the season. In protest of all the celebration, he dresses up as Santa Claus, steals into all the homes in Whoville, and takes away all the presents and festive accoutrements. But instead of reacting in anger and dismay, the townsfolks at Whoville comes together and sings their hearts out to keep up the festive spirits. As with every good story, the Grinch turns a new leave and decides to return all the stolen property and join in the festive cheer.
This is a lovely story to note and certainly one which we should consider in season or out. I am all for what the people at Whoville did, spreading cheer to a lonely rejected Grinch and not retaliating evil for evil. However, what troubles me is the reason given in the book for the antagonists’ negative attitude towards the season. The Grinch’s scorn and bitterness are attributed to the fact that ‘his heart is too small’. Would this not pin a label on those around us who perhaps for some reason or other, are not quite in the mood for the festive season? The Grinch, the latest movie adaptation of the same book with voice over by Benedict Cumberbatch as the Grinch, provides a more empathetic slant to the story. In this latest movie, the Grinch’s behaviour is attributed to his childhood trauma which explains the reason why he isolates himself for fear of being hurt again.
However, many who have never experienced childhood trauma may also experience loneliness and sadness during the festive seasons. Clinical Research has found that Christmas has a contrarian effect on many people. Reports by Mental Health Authorities in the US reports that there is higher incidence of depression in conjunction with the Christmas season than other times of the year. In one North American report, as many as 45 percent of respondents dreaded the festive seasons.
Asia, is no exception to this same occurrence. One drug company estimates that there are as many as 30 million depressed people in China alone. The concomitant effects of stressors brought on by higher demands of work, living in cities away from the support of family and the altogether frenzied pace of modern living.
There may be many reasons for this phenomenon. Associate Professor Adam K Anderson from the University of Toronto suggest that one reasons could be due to the feelings of loneliness, especially for those who are away from their families, or those who do not have close relationships to share the season with. With the media’s emphasis on merry making and happy people during this period, one would more likely ‘question the quality of their own relationships’.
Another reason is the stress of having to meet the many demands of the season, such as buying presents, meeting up with friends and relations that you may not want to meet or simply a disruption to the normal familiar routines. So being sad during the happy festive season is not quite so unusual. According to the Mayo Clinic, Seasonal Affective Disorder (S.A.D) is in fact a medically recognised depression that happens at the same time every year especially during the winter months(1). Studies have shown that cold wet weather can be a dampener on moods and emotions regardless of personal disposition.
Social Isolation is one of the most significant indicators of SAD. A large Danish study found that the Christmas season reveals an increased incidence of mood disorders or dysphoria. Most people however do rebound after the season. However, the study also highlights that suicide rates actually increase shortly after the Christmas season (2).
However, prolonged social isolation or disconnectedness can signal an even more pervasive issue with depression. Sadly, isolation only compounds the problem of depression. John Cacioppo, Ph.D. Director of the Centre of Cognitive and Social Neuroscience at the University of Chicago, suggest that a good way to relieve the symptoms of depression is to reach out to others even though it may be the most difficult thing to do. “That loneliness should act in a similar way to thirst, motivating you to change your behaviour in some way,”
And, if you have this stick-in-the-mud colleague or classmate that is grouchier than the Grinch, maybe you may want to be like the Whos’, reach out to him and send him some festive cheers.