Holiday Blues

It is so easy to get caught up in the excitement and distraction of the holiday season that we overlook those who may not have family to celebrate with, or for various reasons can’t or will not go home for the holidays. Whatever the reason, the holidays create excitement and spirited anticipation, or they stir up painful memories and challenge our emotions.

The negative emotion behind what we experience during the holidays is typically depression or anxiety and sometimes both. The hustle and bustle of shopping, organizing and getting family members together is often stressful, and can be challenging for many. The depression and anxiety that others experience during this season can be more pervasive and debilitating. This is often situational and triggers negative emotions that are connected to various circumstances of the past.

God desires that we come together and celebrate during these times yet some feel a real absence of joy, gratitude and celebration. One might experience Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s with less enthusiasm and meaning because of the loss of a loved one. For others unforgiveness has fragmented family ties and the holidays are no longer occasions shared together. Some have come from families where holidays were filled with chaos. Many of these individuals have experienced abuse as a common occurrence growing up, and the holidays were no exception. Others observed extended family members come together once a year only to find old wounds stirred up and more destructive behavior perpetuated.

For these people, many of whom sit next to us at church, live in our neighborhood, or sit across from us at work, struggle through the holidays without loving, comforting and joyful memories. Whether they’ve had the absence of good things or the presence of bad things during these occasions, we need to be sensitive to the pain they relive during this time.

What is perceived to be true and what feels real for sufferers during the holidays may include only a few negative symptoms to relatively few positive experiences. Depression may be understood on a continuum ranging from mild to major. Some symptoms include decreased interest in pleasurable activities, weight loss or weight gain, lack of or too much sleep, fatigue, feelings of worthlessness, excessive guilt, hopelessness, lack of concentration, preoccupation with death (suicidal thoughts; planning suicide). Five or more of these in combination for a period of two weeks or more may be considered major depression. One or more of these symptoms over days during the holidays reduce one’s peace and freedom to live out an otherwise celebrated occasion.

While depression may be biologically based it is believed that most depression is environmental and has roots in what one believes, the choices they make, and the type and quality of relationships exist past and present. The depressed individual can rule out various physiological issues that can contribute to their condition by seeking medical attention. These may include medical problems not related to a biochemical imbalance that is often treated by anti-depressant medication. Again ruling out any biological cause provides peace of mind and offers a focus on other contributing factors. Medication if necessary is not considered by many to be an option until they have utilized counseling, support groups, and prayer, etc. and have had little or no results.

If you experience depression around the holidays then understanding, growth, and healing can occur by:

1. Exercise

2. Avoid alcohol and drugs.

3. Spend time outside.

4. Eat a well balanced diet – limit caffeine and refined sugar.

5. Take vitamin and mineral supplements.

6. Take inventory of your life; what activities make you feel worse/better; do more of healthy activities that produce better feelings; if guilt is healthy in nature, confess sin, forgive others and forgive yourself.

7. Don’t suffer alone. Share your thoughts and feelings with a counselor, pastor or friend that is trustworthy and full of grace. Pour your heart out to those that will compassionately listen and pray with you and for you.

8. Spend time with healthy, positive upbeat people.

9. Help someone; encourage others; pray for others in need.

10. Get creative – write, paint or draw etc.

11. Make yourself get out of bed. If you have a job, go to work. If you’re a student attend school. If you’re at home make plans to engage in life at some level.

(Adapted from Virtue, Jan/Feb 1997)

These are basic helps that are all practical and willful decisions that require taking action. Remember with “holiday blues”, quite often the roots are situational and stem from past negative holiday experiences. If the pain during this season is rooted in what one has believed and experienced in holidays gone by, then dealing with present symptoms will not heal the feelings and beliefs from the past. At best you will only cope better with the holidays. Remember that depression, or any other negative emotion, is a symptom that can lead us to answers (truth) and options (confession, forgiveness, etc) that God wants you to experience.

You can be free from the painful thoughts and feelings from past experiences – it was bad enough that you went through it once and He desires that you know the truth and be set free… after all, we are talking about being thankful, celebrating the birth of our Savior and anticipating what will be the outcome of another year we’ve been given!

How do you help those that are healing or in need of healing during the holiday?

1. Meet them where they are – their pain feels real.

2. Encourage treatment; counseling and possibly medical.

A. Counseling – practical Christian counseling and healing prayer.

B. Medical Testing – biological, psychological, if necessary.

3. Don’t tell them they need to “snap out of it” or “get over it”, etc.

4. Be present; encourage conversation; primarily listen.

5. Pray with them while together and for them during times apart.

6. Check in with them over the season – let them know you care and that they are valued and loved.

7. Invite activity options; movies, walks, hobbies, sports, church etc.

8. Be sensitive, don’t push, show compassion and concern – hope.

9. Invite those who don’t have family and friends to your holiday gathering.

10. Be proactive reach out – they most likely wont have the energy or motivation to initiate. Type your paragraph here.

Power of Words

Life would be nearly impossible without words. We learn, by listening, reading, and speaking words – words are a gift. Let’s look at the Power of Words by using two metaphors; one being a ship’s rudder and the other the wind.

All four walls in my office are filled with ocean scenes with ships or boats. People assume I like ships and boats when it’s the ocean I’m fond of. Give me white sand, salt water, the sounds and surf, seagulls and pelicans – life’s good. Ships and boats are also interesting. Take the ship’s rudder for instance. Very small compared to its structure and overall mass, yet, big enough to direct, guide and maneuver the vessel. Similarly, think about our tongue, quite a small muscle in contrast to others that make up the body. Words commanded by the tongue direct, guide and maneuver our lives and can steer us off course, get us lost or in trouble, or move us through to safe destinations.

Just as we find insights into words like tongue and rudder, we can find another connection between words themselves and the wind.

My daughter came home for Spring break last month. She was traveling on Interstate 65 and just missed, by about 15-20 minutes, the tornado that took out Henryville, Indiana. My wife and I talked to her a couple of hours before the disaster and then lost contact until it passed through. Those could have been our last words. As she was driving through the area she reported the side of the road looked like an automobile graveyard. She said a semi-truck looked crumpled up like it had been picked up and thrown down and stomped on. Hannah did her best to describe the scene but I’m guessing no words could clearly convey her experience. My daughter and the people of Henryville didn’t see the wind that day; they did see the effects of the wind.

By contrast have you seen or just imagine the gentle sway of weeping willow branches or a flower filled meadow. Now think about a warm breeze creating a playful ripple effect in a sun-soaked wheat field. And what about the amazing power of the wind mill? The world’s largest wind turbine as they’re called has a rotor diameter of 413 feet! The E-126 is officially rated at 6 megawatts. That’s enough energy to sustain 1,776 American homes per year on one wind turbine. That’s constructive power!

Words are a lot like the wind. You can’t see words, but you can see, and experience the effects of words.

Like a calm, windless day, words at times can have little effect at all. “I’m Sorry” and “I love you” have their fair share of lifelessness if actions fail to follow intent. Words, like the wind, can be constructive or destructive, helpful or harmful, humorous or horrendous. Careless, caustic and manipulative words can degrade, shame and destroy someone’s worth and value. Many times this individual personifies a tornado – they enter a situation or circumstance, create destruction and pain and then move on. The person like the tornado never looks back to recognize… “what just happened, what did I do?” Whether, fear, ignorance, insecurity, pride manipulation or whatever the struggle behind the words, the receiver will experience the effects.

Now, think about kind, compassionate, instructive and inspiring words that build respect, worth and value. This person would resemble the wind behind a kite. Winston Churchill said “Kites rise highest against the wind, not with it.” Share words that lift up, challenge and move people to a higher place. When the winds of adversity blow, they may need encouragement, support or just a simple compliment. Kites are fun too. Maybe a play on words, a joke or words that make for entertaining conversation is the needed effect.

In closing, whether wind or rudder we are the control center for our speech and the words we create. Like the rudder words direct, guide and steer our life effectively, or take us off course into harms way.  Like the wind words can be uneventful, constructive or destructive.

Proverbs 18:21 says, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue.” The choice is yours – may you use your words wisely.

Copyright © 2013 Dan Pugel