Avoiding Burnout or Depression at Christmas, Part 2
In my last post, we looked at Christmas burnout, and this post continues to explore that theme.
What is the root cause of all the Christmas burnout and depression at Christmas? Do we have any idea?
Well, a recent study by human resources firm ADP Canada looks at the “time off tax” that Canadians pay around holidays and vacations. It turns out that, in the present work environment, people often feel that they have to put in a pretty substantial number of hours of extra work before and after time off from work, to make up for “lost hours” devoted to themselves and family.
This is certainly not the only thing that makes holidays like Christmas very demanding — far from it. However, it surely is an indicator of one of the things that can make holidays like Christmas so stress-inducing. That is the strong feeling that many people have in our culture that “I am not doing enough.” or, simply, that “I just am not enough.”.
Often, people in our culture confront a specific sense of depression at Christmas. This may well be because they cannot rise to the challenge of making the holidays (and their own individual lives, and their family life) into the wonderful, magical festival of light, joy, peace and good feeling that they are told that this season ought to be. Anyone seeking to gain a sense of the kind of enormous expectations generated by this season need only look at some lines from the most popular Christmas songs:
- “It’s the most wonderful time of the year”
- “Simply having a wonderful Christmas time”
- “Children laughing, people passing / Meeting smile after smile…”
- “What a bright time, it’s the right time, to rock the night away…”
- “Have a Holly Jolly Christmas, it’s the best time of the year…”
- “Voices singing, let’s be jolly / Deck the halls with boughs of holly…”
When we look at all the messaging around the holidays, it’s pretty hard to avoid the sense that “the Christmas spirit” or “that special Holiday feeling” is something that we’re supposed to whip up, or create. No wonder people feel pressured, or even burnt out or depressed!
A Season of Renewal
We may be very pressured trying to turn Christmas into something that meets the expectations of others, along with our own. Yet, perhaps we need to ask: is that the only way to look at the Holiday season? If so, it makes the Holidays seem pretty bleak!
What exactly is a holiday, anyway? In his book The Archetype of Renewal, Jungian analyst D. Stephenson Bond examines one of the most ancient holidays we know of in history. This holiday was a New Year’s festival that originated in ancient Sumer around 3500 B.C.E. It was known as the Akitu festival, a name which means “power making the world live again”.
This holiday had to do with “the death and re-birth of the King”, and what that meant for these ancient people was that the whole of life — the King, the society as a whole, the individual — went through a kind of death and re-birth. Everything in this society was renewed through this festival.
The people of ancient Sumer and Babylon did not sit around, worrying whether their preparations for Akitu were adequate, or whether they had done enough, or whether they were going to “have a good Akitu”. Their perspective was that the Akitu festival came, and it renewed them.
Does this perspective have anything to offer us?
Renewal: Are We OK with That?
What would it be like for us to view the Christmas and Holiday season as a season of renewal, rather than as a big sense of obligation that leaves us feeling inadequate or disappointed? We are so busy in the lead up to the holidays: gift-buying; planning travel and/or activities; decorating home and tree, and many other activities. Often, the “day of” Christmas is absolutely frenetic. Going to parents’ house, parents-in-law, brothers, sisters, the home of the ex to spend some time with the kids — the number of separate destinations in this time period is mind-boggling.
What would it be like in the midst of this period to take even one day to:
- authentically connect with people;
- listen to your own inner voice; and,
- reflect on what’s really important to you, what you really want at this point in your life journey?
If the fundamental (Jungians would say archetypal) essence of a holiday or festival is renewal, what would it mean in our time and place to open ourselves to renewal in the Christmas or Holiday season?
Beyond Depression at Christmas, to Renewal
The most profound kinds of renewal often stem from our own depths. Often both our barely acknowledged conscious selves, and the unconscious mind are full of the desire for renewal and the need to travel our own journey towards wholeness. The healing journey involved in the relationship at the heart of Jungian /a-midlife-transition can be a path to renewal and a connection with our own very deepest values and perspectives.
On the cusp of the Holiday and Christmas season, 2019, may I take this opportunity to wish you authentic joy, true peace and lasting renewal as you travel the road to yourself.