By Deanna Cauthen
Deanna Cauthen is as a contributing writer for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and the Decatur Dispatch and Tucker Times news magazines, publications of Hometown Newspapers.
Christmas has always been my favorite time of year. I love everything about it–the music, (yes, even the old, corny songs about Rudolph and his red nose), attending holiday parties and eating delectable food, and the shopping, wrapping, and gifting of presents.
If you came to my home during the holidays, it would not be unusual to find me belting out my favorite Christmas song, eating a holiday cookie, while decorating the Christmas tree and wearing reindeer antlers. But this year, getting into the holiday spirit has been difficult.
Besides dealing with the physical and the emotional upheaval that comes with menopause, over the past 12 months, I’ve experienced a major blow up with the mother of our grandchildren which led to a severed relationship with her and the children, had serious communication issues with an adult child that resulted in a major conflict, and left a church fellowship where our family has faithfully served for more than 22 years.
And I assure you that I am not only one experiencing major losses. I have friends who’ve been recently diagnosed with debilitating and degenerative diseases, some who have recently had a loved one die, and others who are dealing with the isolation and loneliness that sometimes comes with getting old, being sick, and incapacitated.
There are people who are dealing with job loss and extreme financial distress and let’s not forget about the many families in Southern California whose homes have been consumed by wildfires. There are countless other situations where people are hurting deeply and in the depths of despair.
Contrary to the happy holiday commercials where everyone is sitting around the dining table, eating the turkey and enjoying the festivities, statistics show that depression and anxiety are at an all-time high during this season of the year. So the question is what to do you when the merry is gone from Christmas? Below are a few suggestions that are helping me cope with the holiday blues.
- Acknowledge the sadness and continue to grieve the loss.
Unfortunately, we live in a culture that despises weakness and everything associated with it. As a result, many of us feel it necessary to walk around wearing masks of fake happiness, but life is hard and sad things happen. It’s important to acknowledge the pain and not pretend that it doesn’t exist.
If you’ve had a significant loss as a result of losing a loved one to death, divorce, or you have experienced loss in some other way, it’s important to mourn that loss. How to do that will look different depending on the particulars of your situation.
One way that I process my pain is by writing in my journal. It’s a safe place to put my feelings because I don’t have to worry about anybody criticizing or judging me. The things that I write down in my journal are for my eyes and my eyes alone. I call it “cheap therapy”.
Talking with my husband and other trusted friends helps me to process pain is another thing that I do help process my sadness. Having another person that will listen and acknowledge my hurt is a healing balm for my spirit.
If you do not have a network of family and friends to go to, a support group can provide some much-needed help. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) is a great resource for support. They have a plethora of information on their website and you can enter your zip code to see if there is a free support group in your area.
- Keep your holiday traditions as much as you can.
Although you may not feel like it initially, it helps if you can keep at least some of your holiday traditions.
Having my husband take down all of the Christmas bins from the attic, going through each of them, deciding what decorations I wanted to use this year, and then starting the process of decorating the house, helped me to “get in the mood”.
At first, it felt superficial, like I was just going through the motions, which was exactly what I was doing, but as time went on, I started to feel differently. Putting on the Santa hat, decorating the tree, and listening to Christmas music actually did help me feel better. Did it take away all of the sadness? No, but it helped.
Another one of our family traditions is hosting the Christmas Eve dinner for my side of the family. In addition to hosting, we usually go out and purchase a ton of gifts to give to family and friends, but this year I had neither the energy or the money and I seriously thought about canceling the whole thing.
But then I realized that it doesn’t have to be “all or nothing”. After talking it over with my husband and our youngest daughter, we decided that we would only give homemade treats or simple gifts, and we asked everybody to bring a food item to share. This takes the physical and financial pressure off of us and still allows us to celebrate the holidays with family and friends.
If funds are tight and you like to bake, consider giving cookies or other baked goods as gifts for the holidays. You can purchase cookie tins at your local thrift store for pennies (I purchased 20 tins for under $3). Allrecipes.com, as well as other websites, offer a ton of wonderful cookie recipes.
- Make the effort to reach out to others.
When you’re feeling depressed or sad, the last thing you probably feel like doing is going out, however, I’d like to encourage you to resist the urge to withdraw. This can be hard when you don’t have very much energy, but do it anyway.
It’s important to go to the holiday concert, the Christmas party, or the holiday luncheon. Even if you can only stay for a short while, going can make the difference between feeling completely isolated and having some human connection. You don’t need to try to talk to everyone. Just pick one or two people to connect with and start a conversation. I have found that when I reach out to people, many times they will return the favor.
The holidays are also a great time to talk to people you haven’t seen or spoken to in awhile. Use this time to pick up the phone or break out the Christmas cards and write warm messages to your friends and family members. If don’t feel like licking envelopes and purchasing stamps, try sending an electronic card via email. Crosscards.com allows you send holiday cards for free. Not only will this brighten their day, but doing the activity will brighten your spirit, as well.
- Meditate on the positive.
One of the things that I have found to be vitally important when I’m in a slump is to manage my thought life. I struggle with anxiety and fear, so if I’m not careful, I can allow a plethora of anxious thoughts to plunge me into the depths of despair.
In order to avoid this, I have had to consciously and deliberately take control of the way I think. I do this by making time to meditate. This is easier said than done since there are so many distractions. Constant notifications from things like Facebook and other social media, the barrage of daily emails, text messaging, and any number of other things on the internet, are constantly demanding our attention.
But we can choose to fight back and take control of our soul. This means finding a quiet place and meditating on scripture or other inspirational passages. Some of my favorite scripture passages to meditate on are:
“I alone know the plans I have for you, plans to bring you prosperity and not disaster, plans to bring about the future you hope for.” (Jeremiah 29:11)
“Even if I go through the deepest darkness, I will not be afraid, Lord, for you are with me. Your shepherd’s rod and staff protect me.” (Psalm 23:4)
“Don’t worry about anything, but in all your prayers ask God for what you need, always asking him with a thankful heart.” (Philippians 4:6)
“Come to me, all of you who are tired from carrying heavy loads, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28)
“…. My friends, fill your minds with those things that are good and that deserve praise: things that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, and honorable.” (Philippians 4:8)
- Take time out to exercise.
According to information from the Mayo Clinic, “regular exercise may help ease depression and anxiety by releasing feel-good endorphins, natural cannabis-like brain chemicals (endogenous cannabinoids) and other natural brain chemicals that can enhance your sense of well-being.”(1)
Making and meeting regular exercise goals also gives you the opportunity to take your mind off of your worries and get out of the cycle of negative thinking that fuels depression and anxiety. I have personally noticed that on the days when I make the effort to get out and walk for 30 minutes or so, my mood is so much better.
Regular exercise also benefits you psychologically and emotionally too because it can help you to gain confidence, get more social interaction, and manage your depression or anxiety in a positive, healthy way. Additionally, getting outside and exposing yourself to more light can significantly improve depression.
I realize that none of these things by themselves is going to solve all of our problems or relieve all the sadness, but collectively they can help to cheer our spirits. I encourage you to try them and reclaim this time of the year.
- Mayo Clinic article “Depression and anxiety: Exercise eases symptoms”, September 27, 2017, http://www.mayoclinic.com.