Christmas is meant to be the most wonderful time of the year, but new YouGov data has revealed that less than 40% of people in the UK actually believe this.
Instead many people find themselves anxious or depressed around the festive season, and noticing the void left by people who aren’t around anymore.
Lorna Cordwell, head of the UK’s biggest counselling college, says: “If you’re facing Christmas after the loss of a loved one, or a relationship breakup it can bring back memories and be a constant reminder you’re not as happy as you would like to be.”
So why do we pine after ex-partners, old friends, or those who aren’t in our lives when we might not necessarily think about them that much the rest of the year?
You are bombarded with media focus on family and love.
Forget ‘Love Actually’ - this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to unrealistic media portrayals of Christmas. A time when we’re supposedly all getting romantic under the mistletoe and playing happy families 24/7.
Dr Erin Hope Thompson, clinical psychologist and director of The Loss Foundation, says: “The media craze around Christmas focuses on it as being a time of year for family, and a happy time.
“With both of those assumptions comes pressure - the pressure to spend time with people you might not ordinarily want to at other times of year, and the pressure to feel happy and enjoy it. There is very little in the Christmas media craze that reflects on what it’s like to spend Christmas time alone, or missing someone or something, or wishing you were elsewhere.”
You can’t help but compare your experience to others.
It’s not just the media, we can’t help but compare our experiences to those of our peers (who do a great job of only putting the best bits of social media).
Thompson says: “As social beings, we want to feel part of the ‘in-group’ so an individual might feel the pull to feel or behave the same way as their peer group around Christmas time, which does not happen in quite the same way at other times of year in our society. There are other points in the year when this happens (birthdays, anniversaries) but at Christmas nearly everybody is involved in some way, plastering triggers all over social media.”
“Christmas is often a time of reflection, when emotions are close to the surface and grief can be hard to manage...””
You can’t help but compare Christmas to previous years.
Not only do you have lots of time to look at other people’s happy Christmas (real or fictional) but you can’t help but compare it to Christmases past when you might have been at a different point in your life plan.
Debbie Kerslake, CEO of Cruse Bereavement, the UK’s largest bereavement charity, says: “Memories of previous Christmases may be overwhelming and these may be triggered by anything from a song on the radio, a tradition like putting up the Christmas tree to seeing a present or card in the shops. Christmas is often a time of reflection, when emotions are close to the surface and grief can be hard to manage.”
You have lots of time to stop, think and reflect.
One of the best parts about Christmas is having time off work, to just lie around in your pyjamas and eat your body weight in cold cut sandwiches. But this excess of time means you also have time to think about things, people, or feelings you might have ignored the rest of the year.
Sarah Ryan, relationship and dating expert, says: “We truly see what’s going on in our personal lives under the pressure of the party season and that can mean acknowledging loneliness, bringing forth and connecting consciously with any feelings of grief or missing people that were once present in our lives.”
You can’t help but succumb to nostalgia.
Regardless of where we are in our lives right now, it is always easy to look back on the past with rose-tinted nostalgia and search for emotional comfort in that.
“We reconnect with our personal lives away from everything professional and we think back over our family traditions, including times with loved ones we’ve lost romantically, or passed away,” says Ryan.
“To times perhaps when things were easier, we were happier and more content. We re-visit these times for emotional warmth.”