It is no surprise that what should be the most joyous and happy season, is just the opposite for so many people. Many experience serious anxiety and depression during the Christmas Season. One study showed that over twenty percent of all Americans experienced depression during the Christmas Holidays. Anxiety and depression can be triggered by many things: the loss of a loved one, divorce, loneliness, family discord, financial problems, or the feeling that they will not meet other’s expectations. Psychologists even have a special name for depression that shows up during this time of year: Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD.
What does this Seasonal Affective Disorder look like? For some people, there will be an emotional heaviness as the holidays approach. There might also be a feeling of weariness. You struggle to get out of bed in the morning. Feelings of sadness because of the loss of a loved one or maybe bad memories associated with Christmas might come into play. Many people would acknowledge that the guilt they feel about being depressed or anxious at Christmas only compounds their SAD.
What can someone do to combat SAD?
1. Look Outward. I understand that there are times when people need professional help to treat their emotional issues. I can’t help but wonder, though, how many people would be healed if they could get their eyes off of their own situation for a while and look for ways to help others. Depression is a very self-absorbing condition. What would happen if I got my eyes off of myself and looked for people to bless during this Christmas Season and the rest of the year, as well? There is something healthy and therapeutic about helping those who are less fortunate than us.
The good news is that there are so many opportunities to serve others during the holidays. From the Salvation Army to the USMC’s Toys for Tots, there are plenty of opportunities to give money or time to help others. Our church in the US, for example has participated in the Salvation Army’s Angel Tree program. This organization reaches out to children who would not have a Christmas otherwise. Angel Tree’s goal is to let these children know that they are not forgotten and to give them a joyous Christmas. For just a few dollars, you can put a smile on a child’s face. It is tough to stay depressed when you are helping others. If you look, you can find a place to serve this holiday season.
2. Go to Church. If church is not a normal part of your life, Christmas is a great time to start a new habit! Most churches have special presentations, musicals, and other special services designed to help people celebrate the true meaning of Christmas. For someone struggling with SAD, being around positive, loving, and affirming people is one of the best things that we can do. The atmosphere that a person creates around their life is one of the main factors that affect their outlook on life.
3. Plan Who You are Going to Spend Time With. Family is often one of the triggers for Christmas depression. If that is the case, decide ahead of time who you are going to visit and how much time you are going to spend with them. It can be nice to visit relatives, but it can also be nice to leave! Planning out ahead of time how long you can stay at Aunt Gertrude’s is a proactive way to eliminate stress. If you are married, talk to your spouse about this prior to the visits. Make sure you also plan to visit some people who are not going to contribute to your depression. This type of planning will not be practical for everyone but many people have found that limiting the time that they have to spend with crazy relatives and including plenty of time with non-crazy ones goes a long way to helping them overcome SAD.
4. Exercise! If exercise is not part of your normal schedule, why not start now? A regular exercise program has been shown to be one of the most effective tools in combating depression. You know that dropping a few pounds is going to be one of your New Years Resolutions. Why wait until the New Year? Even if you just commit to taking a long walk a few days a week during December, I think that you will notice a difference in the way that you feel. If you already have an exercise regimen, don’t neglect it during the holidays. Staying active during the Thanksgiving/Christmas/New Years holidays will help prevent you from packing on extra weight.
Can you think of any other ways to fight the holiday blues?
If you would like to help us have an impact in the US, South America, and India here is the link. Thank you and Feliz Natal! (Merry Christmas!)