I’ll have a blue, blue, blue Christmas

According to the media and uncontested common sense, you can add the Christmas blues to the traditional reds and greens.

Christmas brings us not only excessive worries about excessive shopping and eating, but fitness clubs everywhere are getting prepared for the after-the-holidays guilt complexes. We have been told that Christmas increases the incidence and expression of many different psychiatric disorders.

Some complicated by high and unrealistic expectations, coerced family get-togethers which insist on the suppression of long-standing family differences and the chronically-forced Christmas cheer consisting of smiles, merriment and the omnipresent good wishes.

Because of the pressures at Christmas, the so-called Christmas blues pose real danger to our mental health; at least, so runs the popular myth. However, careful studies fail to confirm the trials and tribulations resulting in the Christmas blues.

Much of it was started in an obscure paper, published in the Journal of American Psychoanalytic Association, which stated, “Depressions which occur during the Christmas season are primarily the result of reawakened conflicts related to unresolved sibling/family rivalries.”

Other observers have compared behaviour around Christmas to customs surrounding childbirth: the long period of preparatory excitement, secret anticipation, the last-minute flurry of preparations, the prohibition about entering the rooms containing gifts and the relief of tension by the final delivery.

This is why people develop problems at Christmas time; it stirs up unconscious fantasies and unresolved conflicts about childbirth.

Some worriers allude to the holiday celebrations where there is a slackening of the prohibitions against self-indulgence.

Then there are those who have referred to the magical wish-fulfillment of Christmas, followed after the holiday by realistic frustrations.

With all of this we have the holiday syndrome, which increases anxieties in individuals who have difficulties establishing close emotional ties and develop feelings of isolation and loneliness.

Perhaps all of the hype about Christmas depression serves a useful function by permitting some of us not to feel deliriously happy about decking the halls; but does Christmas cause anxieties?

One study looked at admissions to a psychiatric facility and reports no statistically significant increases in such admissions to hospital or increases in suicides at Christmas.

In fact, most studies examining December hospital admissions have reported relatively low numbers.

Studies of suicide consistently report that the numbers of suicides in December and January were average or low, suggesting that if this holiday syndrome exists, it is not strong enough to produce significant changes in suicide rates.

Are we dealing with a mythical syndrome? Studies suggest yes.

But perhaps the holiday syndrome is muddied by Seasonal Affective Disorder Syndrome (SADS); the estimated prevalence of SADS is three to eight per cent of the total population and is highly treatable.

The evidence is strong that SADS occurs in the winter because of diminished light, so it may have little to do with Christmas.

The evidence suggests that most of the major holidays temporarily suppress, to a degree, mild symptoms of psychological disturbances.

While the holidays may mean for some of us sadness and unhappiness, some genuine Christmas cheer may actually relieve stress and ameliorate anxiety.

So exchange your Christmas blues for the traditional reds and greens. Such “blues” may be merely a figment of an active media imagination.