George Garrett is no stranger to the Christmas blues.
These blues are not the jazzy carols heard in department stores at the end of the year, but are genuine feelings of sadness that many people experience every holiday season.
Christmas is a time of year full of demands, expenses, and short, dark days. Add grief to the mix and it can make for a gloomy holiday.
Garrett, a retired radio reporter, lost his son 26 years ago in a canoeing accident.
“The last picture I have of my son was when he was home for Christmas,” says Garrett, adding it’s a particularly difficult time of year because of the emphasis on family.
Recognizing that many people feel down during the holidays, Crossroads United Church is offering a “Blue Christmas” service. The event is not a typical Christmas service, says Rev. Cari Copeman-Haynes.
“There’s no sense of expectation,” she says. “Whatever you’re wearing is okay, whatever your feelings are, it’s okay. We fully expect that people are going to be a little upset.”
In contrast to the Christmas Eve services, where there will be a lot of activity and noise, the Dec. 15 “Blue Christmas” event focuses on reflection.
“There’s room for (everyone) in more than a physical way… in an emotional and spiritual way too,” says Copeman-Haynes, who will lead the service.
She says Blue Christmas attendance changes from year to year in size and need, but anyone who comes is welcome.
Garrett is no stranger to emotional Christmases. Last winter he had to place his wife, who has Alzheimer’s disease, in a care facility because it was becoming too difficult to look after her.
“I confess I got a bit emotional when I went up just to say my son’s name and of course I was thinking about my wife’s situation too,” says the 79-year-old, who attended the service at Crossroads for the first time last year.
Through the service, Garrett was able to share his grief and find support to help him deal with his difficult Christmas.
The Blue Christmas Worship service will be held Dec. 15 at 3 p.m. at Crossroads United Church, 7655 120 St.
Seasonal sadness comes in many forms
Not all holiday sadness is caused by loss, grief or isolation.
According to a UBC professor, the “Christmas blues” is a common phrase for holiday doldrums caused by financial stress, family pressures and busy schedules.
Dr. Raymond Lam notes it’s important to differentiate between “the blues” and Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD,) which is related to the changing levels of daylight.
“Many of our patients with SAD actually hold it together over the holiday season because there are so many things [they] have to do, and they crash in January,” says Lam, head of the mood and anxiety disorders program at the UBC department of psychiatry.
Only one to three per cent of the population suffers from SAD, a form of clinical depression.
But there’s a milder form of winter depression that affects up to 15 per cent of Canadians that Lam calls the “winter blahs.”
People with the winter blahs experience physical symptoms such as low energy and oversleeping, Lam says.
For people with mild symptoms, Lam recommends exercise and getting outside for exposure to light.
“The brightness of the light isn’t necessarily related to how much light gets into your eyes, and we know the effect is through the eyes and not through skin exposure,” said Lam. He added that on a cloudy day, the light outside is still far brighter than any office.
A lunchtime walk should be a part of your daily routine because it provides light and exercise, says Lam.