It's Christmas! So Why Am I Depressed?
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The people who walked in darkness have seen a great Light; those who dwelt in the land of intense darkness and the shadow of death, upon them has the Light shined.(AMPC)
The holidays are supposed to be the most joyous time of the year – festive clothes, gourmet foods, decorations, lights, parties, beautiful music, religious emphasis, family, and friends – so how could anyone possibly be depressed?
If thoughts of the Holidays cause you to feel down and make you want to sleep until mid-January, you’re not alone. The idea that everyone is happy in December is a myth. An estimated 10 million Americans suffer from Seasonal Affect Disorder (SAD) or what is often referred to as “Holiday Blues.”
Although SAD is a culprit in holiday depression, here are some other factors that affect your mood at Christmas and cause you to feel depressed:
- Unrealistic expectations – We all have visions of what think Christmas should be. Often we view Christmas through child-like eyes, hoping to recapture the magic and wonder of hazy memories. We tend to remember only the good things and expect a fantasy Christmas even as adults. These unrealistic expectations lead to feelings of disappointment or unfulfillment when events turn out to be less than we expect.
- Debt – Millions of Americans are heavily in debt and excessive Christmas spending leads to an even greater burden of debt. Advertisers are adept at hooking us into believing we have to purchase gifts for everyone from our immediate family to teachers to acquaintances to postal carriers to…the list goes on and on. Setting a Christmas budget, saving throughout the year, and resisting the urge to exceed the budget will help keep spending within reasonable limits.
- World Events – The events of September 11, 2001 brought terrorism and its affects to our door. Suddenly, fear regarding personal safety and national security became every day issues. Wars and rumors of war along with constant talk about nuclear weapon stockpiling change the mood of the nation, even at Christmastime. Military deployment places families on opposite sides of the globe, causing separation at a time when families are normally brought together.
- Aging family members – Watching parents, grandparents, and other family members age is a difficult process. As life expectancy increases, so do problems associated with long-term care, mental function, and quality of life. Many of us are put in a position to become caregivers or provide financial assistance to aging family members. Remembering these loved ones in younger days against the backdrop of their current physical or mental incapacities tends to cast a shadow on holiday festivities. Additionally, memories of deceased loved ones dampens the holiday spirit.
- Magnification of existing problems – Historically, Christmas is a time that emphasizes family togetherness. However, if you grew up in a family situation that was less than idyllic, the holidays may bring back memories of abuse, neglect, or abandonment. Ongoing relationship problems with parents, siblings, children, or your spouse may seem more intense and more unsolvable during the holidays. Often, looking at other families who seem to be happy and have it all together intensifies your feelings of inadequacy or lack of control over current relationship problems.
Now that you know some of the reasons for depression during this season, what can you do to offset the symptoms? Following are some things you can do to lessen the affect of “Holiday Blues”:
- Bask in the light – One of the most effective treatments for seasonal depression is light therapy. Even twenty minutes seated beside a sunny window or walking outside at lunchtime helps. The other all-important light source is God’s word. In the business of the season, don’t neglect time in Bible study and prayer.
- Exercise – One of the best ways to combat depression is with physical activity. Often this is difficult when all you want to do is curl up under an afghan and sleep, but find an accountability partner and hit the gym instead. Aerobic exercise increases the heart rate and releases endorphins in the brain, which leads to increased feelings of well-being, not to mention helping you avoid those unwanted holiday pounds.
- Lower your personal goals – Many times we overload ourselves with “must do’s” during the holidays. Often these goals are unrealistic and leave us with a feeling of defeat when not accomplished. When you’re already feeling depressed, a list of undone to-do’s can be overwhelming. Decide to lower your personal goals during the holidays. Take a serious look at what you hope to accomplish and then strike through or decrease requirements for some of the things on your list. If you’ve ALWAYS done things a certain way, give yourself permission to do it differently and simpler this year.
- Focus on making pleasant memories – Even if Christmas reminds you of a depressing past, you can take steps to create pleasant memories for the future. Begin a new tradition that is unique for you and your immediate family. It can be as simple as a Christmas Eve song-fest and story time or as elaborate as an overnight trip to a fancy hotel. Whatever you choose let it require a minimum of preparation and maximum enjoyment.
- Perform acts of service for others – A great way to overcome feelings of sadness is to focus outward rather than inward. Realize you are not the only one struggling during the holidays. There are many others who are sad, depressed, and lonely. Even though you may not feel like exerting yourself, push yourself to find a way to offer an act of service for an elderly or disabled person in your church or community. It may involve wrapping presents, driving someone to a doctor’s appointment, or simply listening and offering words of comfort and encouragement.
Seeing the needs of others helps you see the blessings in your own life.
Copyright © Candy Arrington, used with permission.
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