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:
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.