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  • Writer's pictureCarlien Serfontein

Is there a dark side of the festive season?

We are fast approaching this year’s festive season - and yes - we can only expect that 2020 will have a few more surprises up its sleeve. This year has challenged us, forced us to deal with loss - whether it be financial, job-related or through death - seen us cringe and lose faith in our leaders and had us feeling like there was not control. We are also faced with the reality that another year has gone and the possibility that we have not achieved everything we set out to.

It has been mentioned that the festive season can be hard on people, and whether this is fact or fiction, it only really matters where you stand in this moment. A lot of families will approach this season with dread as there will not be the usual savings for bigger-than-normal dinners, gifts for their children or even in some cases the option to take leave because they cannot afford it. People feel pressured to spend more money during this time as well as attend family reunions. It is no secret that even the best of times, families can be hard work. So top all of this off with a year that has not exactly been inspiring and an advocate for calm. Zane Wilson, from the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG) mentions how the festive season can be hard for people who have just suffered a loss or finalised a messy divorce. Extra stressors might be experienced by 17-19 year-olds who are feeling extreme pressures to have good grades after an exceptional challenging year, especially if resources were thin.

So why is this time seen as if the sand trickles too slowly through the hour glass, yet too fast to feel rested at the end of it? Most of us will not speak openly about these struggles. It is in our nature to keep quiet - suffer in silence and make a plan without worrying our loved ones.

So what are the indicators that you should look out for? A lot of people feel unreasonably frustrated and angry for no reason at all. Sometimes there might be a sense of hopelessness with regards to the future, for example not seeing any positive aspects to the next year. In more severe cases you might be experiencing feelings of worthlessness, a constant state of sadness, experiencing a loss of appetite and bouts of insomnia.

Actions to take

First, and most effective form of help is that of a support network. I know, you are thinking that you’ll be surrounded by family and friends and they are supposed to be your support. Yes - that is true, but a real support network consists of one or two people who you can be brutally honest with. Not the bigger crowd that you have to smile and nod for, but the one or two people who can handle the ugly and know when it is serious. If you don’t have a support system in place, loneliness will be amplified (SADAG). Choose someone and ask them if they would be willing to be your support during this season - even if you end up never having to chat to them at all.

Secondly, and rather difficult, set your boundaries and follow through. As South Africans, we were raised to “be nice”, do not make waves, give the other person the benefit, be the lesser person, “turn the other cheek”. This is our state of being, and it feels so unnatural to set boundaries for the people we love. We allow our families to take advantage of us, to play on our insecurities, to question our beliefs and life choices; all for the sake of showing care and concern. Can we blame them…? I’m afraid not. If you have not been honest about what you can an cannot allow during this holiday season, you cannot expect your family to comply. There is nothing wrong with setting your boundaries and communicating them. As the sentiment goes, the only people who are upset by you setting boundaries are the ones who were abusing them in the first place.

Finally, be realistic about your expectations not only for the holiday season but also for the new year. Hold on to the thought that the new year offers a new beginning and with that, if you need it, the help that is available.

This season, be real, at least with yourself. Stop, reflect and find your balance. You have permission to not see family that you do not have the capacity for, you have permission to take it slow, you have permission to be honest and voice the fact that you cannot afford the holiday season this year, you have permission protect yourself.

Remember, “One’s real life is so often the life that one does not lead”, so make the change this year.

Emergency contact details

Sadag Office: 011 234 4837

Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0800 567 567

Adcock Ingram Depression and Anxiety Helpline: 0800 7 8 9

24-Hour Substance Abuse Helpline: 0800 12 13 14

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1 Comment

Nov 23, 2020

Thank you so much for this information. I find festive season is always a tough time for me . Xx

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