“Don’t you think you went a little overboard?” my husband asked while tiptoeing through our seasonal landmine.
Gifts bulged from under the tree and avalanched across our living room floor. Fluffy faux snow, heritage Nutcrackers, and dangling ornaments decorated the mantle, rivaling any Macy’s holiday window display. Outside, the yard was illuminated by thousands of tiny white lights twisted around porches and pinned to the ridge of the roof. Elaborate wreaths made from fresh Maine pine welcomed visitors to our home. It was a picture-perfect, greeting card-worthy season made possible by disposable income. I spared no expense – from the presents each family member received to the decorations that filled twenty plastic storage bins most of the year. It began on Black Friday, the day after a feast fit for royalty, and didn’t let up until the last gift was unwrapped on Christmas day.
Overboard? Okay. Maybe I did go a did go a little too far. But it was my favorite time of the year.
I had the money to splurge and it filled me with so much joy to spoil others, all while jazzing up our house to mimic Santa’s residence at the North Pole.
I’d post pictures of our celebrations on Facebook and tweet about our holiday cheer. I enjoyed seeing others engrossed in their festivities too and would often comment on pictures, posts, and videos on social media. “Wow, Martha! Look at your beautiful tree!” or “Have a fun time at your holiday party, Ed!” My yuletide spirit was relentless.
This was before I left a high-paying full-time job for a higher-paying contract-based job that ultimately fell through. I found myself unemployed for the first time in my life. This was before my husband and I lived paycheck-to-paycheck and disposable income dwindled to the rare penny. For the past three or four years, the holidays have been a harsh reminder of all the things I cannot do because of our financial situation. Don’t get me wrong. I’m thankful for the gift of family and the food that is always present in our home. We make ends meet, everyone is healthy, and the bills are usually paid. But when all is said and done, there’s not a lot left over to go all out on Thanksgiving and Christmas. And this reality makes me sad. In fact, it’s now the time of year when depression sets in and I find myself crying to "Jingle Bells" rather than singing.
Black Friday posts spark a spiral of panic and depression. Three weeks before Christmas, everyone has begun their shopping and planning. What are we going to do?
Social media adds yet another heavy layer to the season. Over 1.3 billion people log into Facebook each day. Every 60 seconds, 510,000 comments are posted; 293,000 statuses are updated; and 136,000 photos are uploaded. Heavy is an understatement.
This year, I might deactivate my Facebook account to save myself from the anguish of the 'tis the season shopping excursions and elaborate events that go hand-in-hand with the holidays and take over my newsfeed.
I’m happy others can enjoy the festivities. But the fact that we constantly struggle weighs heavy on my heart and mind. Black Friday posts spark a spiral of panic and depression. Three weeks before Christmas, everyone has begun their shopping and planning. What are we going to do? I ask myself this question repetitively as the countdown begins and lingers day after day.
Some say I’m missing the point of the holidays and the sacredness of the season. I understand where they’re coming from, but I’m not religious. For me, the holidays have always been about family. They’ve also been that one time of year when life imitated a fairy tale. It was never about keeping up with the Joneses or comparing my life to 1,056 so-called Facebook “friends.” Or so I thought.
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A recent study in the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology found that not only do Facebook and depressive symptoms go hand-in-hand, but the mediating factor seems to be a well-established psychological phenomenon called social comparison.
We make comparisons between our low moments and our friends' highs, even when we’re not aware.
Aside from social media, and even though there is no data to suggest an actual rise in depression rates during Thanksgiving and Christmas, some experts say the holiday blues are a very real phenomenon. But before Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, and well before I could go all out, I don’t recall experiencing this level of increased depression or anxiety during the holiday season. I think social media heightens all my fears, worries, and shortcomings. So, what should I do? Leave? Stay and force a smile? Move to a remote island away from all humans and Internet connectivity?
“If you’re feeling bad rather than good after using Facebook, it might be time to reevaluate and possibly step away from the keyboard,” said study author Mai-Ly Steers in an interview with Forbes. She also mentioned that people prone to depression, which I am, may want to be aware of the connections, and think about how and when they log on to social media.
Already, on Facebook, I’ve seen two ads for Black Friday sales, multiple gift guides, and a handful of friends who have their Christmas cards ready to go — images included. All this only days after Halloween. A twinge of anxiety is churning inside me. I might end up logging off until January, but I’m still on the fence. While I make up my mind, there are decorations to pull from storage. We may not have the money for a bunch of gifts, but we can still create a bit of magic. In the end, it might not be me leaving for a remote island. It might be my tote-carrying, yuletide landmine-straddling husband.