‘Tis the Season to be Depressed and Overwhelmed

Christmas is a joyous and beautiful time of the year and yet you may find yourself overwhelmed and depressed. It is that time of year where the Christmas trees have been adorned with lights and decorations, and the joyous sound of Christmas carols can be heard in malls, shopping centers and churches. People are planning many celebrations and planning trips to be close to loved ones.  Despite all the lights, décor, and holiday cheer the holidays can be a difficult time for many people and can cause people to become depressed and filled with anxiety.

The Christmas season has been called “That Joyous Time of Year.” Let us remember that for those who have suffered a loss in a relationship, this time of year may not be all that joyous.  There may be many people who are grieving the loss of a loved one through death, divorce and/or separation and the Christmas season can become a painful reminder of what once was. This is especially true for people who have experienced a significant loss such as the death of a spouse or child, or the loss of a relationship break-up.

For some families, getting together with family may not be an option. For others getting together with the family may be that dreaded event that causes anxiety and depression. Many others may be dreading the trip back home, not joyfully looking forward to being with family members. For many, being around family is a reminder of their past and some may have unfinished or unsettled conflicts with family members. For others, you may be returning to your place in the family, that place that you have done everything to get away from and put behind you.

Single people seem to feel their aloneness much more and deeper this time of year. As the Christmas season is often marketed around couples in love, families and children, all of this reminding the single person what they do not have.  Singles will often find themselves at parties with complete strangers to avoid celebrating with family due to unhealthy family dynamics or just the fact that the single person feels different. Being single and finding yourself around strangers during the holidays can often exacerbate loneliness and bring on depressive thoughts and feelings.

Often during the Christmas season even those who are not normally prone to depression or anxiety may find themselves overwhelmed and tense trying to balance the demands of family obligations, parties, shopping and house guests. They may develop stress responses and experience different physical and emotional symptoms including insomnia, headaches, excessive drinking and overeating.

Even if you have been in therapy and learning new skills of coping and living, the holidays can be a stressful time of year as you may find yourself in situations requiring you to exercise what you have learned. Those of you who have learned to have boundaries often find that the holiday events try to challenge your boundaries. Just because you have made healthy emotional changes in your life does not mean other family members and friends have. Implementing learned skills and boundaries during the visit with family can be particularly important for your sanity.

There are things that you can do to help combat the “Holiday Blues”. Do not give in to holiday pressures from family and friends to attend every party or function.  You can say, “No thank you maybe next year”; or “I am not up to that right now”.  If you are at a holiday party and feel uncomfortable you can leave.  This is the time to give yourself the gift of “self-care”.  Do healthy things that you happy .

Break the mold of doing the same traditions year after year. Choose and implement your own and new holiday traditions. This is especially true for young families with their children.  Young couples starting out need to discuss what traditions you want to keep, and which ones will not work for you and find ways to create new traditions for your new family.   Single people can start their own traditions. Plan and host a potluck with other single people. Some family traditions include taking a vacation during the holidays, doing some volunteer work like at a homeless shelter or soup kitchen, helping the needy or buying a gift for a needy child.

Stress relievers during the holidays may include getting back to nature. Going for a walk in the park or the woods help many people who are feeling overwhelmed to feel better. Taking a long drive in the country or finding ways to relax despite the business of this time of year are important.  Experts suggest a regime of self-care during the holidays, which includes eating a healthy diet, maintaining a regular sleep pattern, and exercise. In fact, as little as 30-minutes of cardiovascular exercise can provide an immediate mood boost similar to the effects of an antidepressant medication.

Isolation is one of the biggest predictors of depression especially during the holidays.  People who may have feelings of disconnectedness will often avoid social gatherings during the holidays; however, this may cause you to become more depressed and feel much more alone.

Dr. John Cacioppo, Ph.D., the director of the Center of Cognitive and Social Neuroscience at the University of Chicago, says that one of the best things a person can do is to reach out to others despite how difficult it may seem. “That loneliness should act in a similar way to thirst, motivating you to change your behavior in some way,”

Maybe, simply getting back to the real reason Christmas is celebrated – a time to honor and reflect on the birth of Jesus Christ the Savior will help recharge and refocus you during this busy season. Remember what Jesus said, Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you will recover your life. I will show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I will not lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep Company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” Matthew 11:30 (from The Message (MSG) translation).

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year

Jim Katsoudas – Click here to learn more about Jim!

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