Fighting the Holiday Blues
The holidays are officially here! It is the time of year when trees are trimmed, lights are hung, halls are decked and tinsel adorned. ‘Tis the season to be jolly! Holiday traditions begin, recipe books are dusted off and your favorite radio station is playing every Yuletide carol. Most people wait with anticipation for this time of year. It is a season of hope and charity and an amalgam of other sentiments evoked, in this season. Most of them are usually belonging, love, joy and glee.
In the midst of all the festivities, there are still many people who experience feelings of loneliness, stress, and anxiety during the holiday season. Pure speculation can assume that it is linked to the longer nights and shorter days. Or maybe the colder weather decreases the desire for outdoor activity. Holiday depression can affect many people no matter their status in life. Obligatory family gatherings, managing family expectations, financial strain, composing gift lists and unresolved family issues can create social demands that place emotional tension on individuals. While the Annenberg Public Policy Center (2010) has provided statistics in which the media perpetuates the myth of increased suicides during the holidays, there are still a number of surveys that illustrate an increase of feelings of stress, isolation and anxiety amongst people during the winter season. Its findings have debunked the correlation between suicide and holiday depression. However, it has not been proven that the holidays do not evoke negative emotions with some people.
In a 2014 survey, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) reported that approximately 24% of people with a diagnosed mental illness find that the holidays make their condition “a lot” worse and 40% “somewhat” worse.” Approximately 755 of overall respondents reported that the holidays contribute to feeling sad or dissatisfied and 68% financially strained. 66% have experienced have loneliness, 63% too much pressure and 57% unrealistic expectations. 55% found themselves remembering happier times in the past contrasting with the present, while 50% were unable to be with loved ones.
If there was loss, dysfunction, separation, or estrangement these things can add to the stress of the season. Individuals who may not have the “traditional family” may compare themselves to others and wonder “Why do I not have what they have?” or “Why is everyone much happier than me?” Colder weather may limit the opportunity for socialization and may even promote social isolation. If loss or separation has occurred the Christmas season makes people keenly aware of the hurt they have experienced.
As the topic of mental health becomes an increasingly important topic amongst our generation, it is imperative to identify solutions to combat its effects during the holiday season. The typical onset of seasonal depression begins during the fall and continues into the winter. I was not aware of its prevalence until doing some research of my own. I had fallen into self-induced guilt trips because I felt that I “shouldn’t be feeling like this.” Christmas is a time to celebrate the advent of our Savior. I should be “happy.” Realizing at that moment, if I continued to set the expectation of “happiness” during this season, I would only disappoint myself and it will lead me into a deeper depression.
Steps to Overcoming Holiday Depression
As a “holiday blues” overcomer, I wanted to share a few things to help you as the holiday season approaches. Some of the most important things needed to manage holiday depression is the ability to be honest with yourself and address how you really feel. It also requires creativity to reduce and eliminate holiday stress and isolation. Creating a plan for managing family issues or avoiding them entirely is necessary to maintain emotional health. It’s called the Depression Plan. As these emotions of depression can creep up without any real indicator or warning, you must be prepared. With that said, it’s important to have something in place to practice when negative emotions arise.
Step #1 Own Your Emotions
If a social setting is overwhelming or evoking feelings of stress or anxiety be honest with yourself. Own your feelings and let people around you know that you cannot “handle” the environment at the moment. Do not isolate yourself but identify a friend who can sit with you, or help you in moments of distress. Set some realistic expectations for yourself and then communicate them to others and stick by them. Your emotional health is more important than anything else. Another thing I would like to point out is that it is ok to not feel “happy.”
Your emotions are indicators of a greater issue. They should not be used to make decisions nor should they be ignored as if unimportant. A wise man once said to me, emotions are like children in a car. They should not be stuffed in the trunk, nor should they be driving. Create an action plan so that your emotions “children” are not driving, and are not stuffed in the trunk.
Step #2 Depression Plan
I joined a support group that helped me to identify a few activities that I could implement in times of grief. Put a list together of the things you enjoy doing on your best day. The objective is to help you prevent your emotions from dominating. I will share a few things from my list. At the onset of negative emotions, I start some of these activities on my list. Here are a few:
- Listening to my favorite praise and worship music (I made an entire iTunes playlist and titled it Depression Plan)
- Reading or listening to Psalms
- Call a friend, not to complain but to encourage her/him and be a listening ear (Helping others is the cheapest, quickest way to feel better about yourself)
- Volunteering your time (at a soup kitchen, tutoring, cleaning a neighbor’s yard)
- Go exercise (A nice scenic run, walk or jog for 30 mins or more)
- Read a book, watch a television show that you enjoy
You can add so much more to your list. These were a few things to get you started. The point is for you to have something prepared so that when it comes you’ll be ready.
Step #3 Remember What the Bible Says
Lastly, King David, who we admire so much, experienced moments of depression and loss. In Psalms 143:4 & 7, David expresses his sorrow during his time of exile. As he was attempting to escape the deadly pursuit of Saul. David, the greatest king of all, was depressed. While his sorrow may differ from ours, owning your feelings is still very important. For a long time, I did not honor my emotions. I pushed them aside and told myself that I had no right to feel the way that I did. That is simply not true.
While we were naturally given emotions to manage, God also gave us a spiritual responsibility. The Bible tells us in Psalm 107:1 to “Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; His love endures forever.” There is a direct correlation between gratefulness and sadness. Mental illness, a serious health condition that many people face today, is different than the holiday blues. Talk to a therapist or a medical professional to determine what you are truly experiencing. Support groups, therapy, counseling sessions and even medicinal intervention was created to help. Remember that God will never leave you and He will never fail you.
In Romans 15:13 it says, “I pray that God, the source of hope, will fill you completely with joy and peace because you trust in Him. Then you will overflow with confident hope through the power of the Holy Spirit.”
I know what it feels like to be trapped in despair and feelings of hopelessness. It rips at your soul and leaves you feeling wounded and broken. It is as if your heart has a gaping hole. God knows your sorrow. He wants to love on you in your darkest times. Jesus wants us to have hope in Him. Ask the Lord to fill your heart with Him. Let Jesus cover your emotional wounds and give you peace within. Be honest with Him and tell Him what hurts the most. Give the Lord your frustration, anxiety, grief, loss and disappointment. There is hope! Jesus Christ is the hope of the world!
For those who know that it is only because of the holiday season, try something different this year. Put your depression plan in place, begin putting gratefulness into practice and watch your outlook slowly change. Ask the Holy Spirit to cover the wounds in your heart and allow Him to fill you completely. Taking the time to practice thanksgiving will also help alleviate the blues and allows you to celebrate the Savior as intended during this holiday season.