Coping With Depression and The Holiday Blues During The Christmas Season
About this time every year, . . . it happens. Along with the Christmas lights and decorations, the crowded malls and congested traffic, the added strain on budgets and daily schedules, . . . comes the blues and depression that is often associated with the Christmas Season.
A time of year that is supposed to be the occasion for joy, celebration, making family memories, peace on earth and good will toward all people, in reality for many becomes a season of dread, . . . a season of depression, . . . a season of the blues.
Whether it has been diagnosed as clinical depression that spikes at Christmas or simply as a seasonal case of the Holiday Blues, depression during the Christmas Season not only robs you of your joy during this Season, but can greatly impact those around you.
Causes of Depression and the Blues during the Holidays
Simply put: There is something almost inherent in the Holidays and the Christmas Season that seems to magnify all that is not right in our world, . . . our unfulfilled relationships, . . . our shattered hopes and dreams, . . . our painful losses, . . . our crummy jobs, . . . our lack of a job. The loss of a loved one (the more recent, the more intense the feeling of loss) can paralyze us during this Season with only the hope of just getting through it all. During this Season, we can become acutely aware of so many of our unfulfilled longings.
We often expect too much of the Christmas Season. We compare our lives and families to all the Holiday Hype all around us, . . . the kind of families we long for portrayed on TV/Movies, all-loving and forgiving, with apparently no baggage. These unreal expectations set us up for experiencing depression and the Holiday Blues.
Part of our problem during this Season is the tendency to romanticize memories of “Christmas Past.” I know I do. I have great childhood memories of “Christmas Past.” I have hand-picked those memories and photo-brushed them in my mind. But I know that when I look back through lenses of reality, they weren’t all that wonderful, . . . family members didn’t really get along that well, . . . mom and dad were arguing most of the time behind the scenes (when dad was even around), going to the Christmas Eve Candlelight Service and singing Silent Night was primarily just an excuse to get out of the house, . . . and opening Christmas gifts was really just a welcomed distraction in a house full of tension-filled relationships.
So, if experiencing depression this Christmas Season or some form of the Holiday Blues is an ever-present reality for you (or someone you care about), the question before us is: How do you cope?
How do you cope with depression and the The Holiday Blues during The Christmas Season?
The Key To Coping Is Serving
Much has been written on the variety of ways to help deal and cope during this Season. They involve realistic self-reflecting inventories, getting enough sleep, proper diet, limited sugar and alcohol intake, setting budgetary guidelines and realistic relational goals, and learning how to say “I/we can’t make it there this year!” All of these suggestions have their place, but I think there is something that is often missing in these lists that is at the very heart of dealing with our depression and The Holiday Blues in a meaningful and long-lasting way.
I would like to suggest and that one major antidote to depression at Christmas and The Holiday Blues is found simply in serving others.
Six ways to serve this Christmas Season:
● Visit a Nursing Home or Assisted Living Facility
These facilities are filled with dear folks who would love visiting with someone and you don’t have to be related to a resident to visit. The initial suggested protocol would be to meet with the Administrator and simply communicate your desire to visit and talk with someone whom the Administrator thinks might be served well by such a visit. Though these facilities will certainly have their own protocol on how to proceed, most places are glad to accommodate such a desire to serve. (Remember too, that it is the Christmas Season for these dear folks as well, . . . their longings for what may never be, . . . a visit from someone who cares, . . . anybody who cares enough to personally spend time with them.) Such a visit may not only help them and you cope with the challenges of the season, but it may also be the catalyst for an on-going relationship and ministry beyond the Christmas Season.
● Salvation Army Bell Ringer
The Salvation Army is always in need of volunteers. You can go online at ringbells.org and search for a location nearest you and see the available openings and simply click the time you can serve. Your sign-up time will be confirmed via email.
Serving as a Salvation Army Bell Ringer will do something to you, even if you only do it once. You will see the full gamut of Christmas shoppers, . . . from those only on a mission to purchase, rushing by you pretending not to hear the ringing of the bell avoiding eye contact at all expense, . . . to those who are on the same mission, but who hear the ringing and know the need, and then take the time to stop, pull out some money and contribute to something that can help people going through very difficult times.
Once you spend an hour or two ringing a bell for the Salvation Army, you will not look at people or your circumstances the same way.
● Meals on Wheels
Meals on Wheels is a great opportunity to serve others in your community and they are recruiting volunteers throughout the year. Whether you can help out every day or if you are only able to serve a couple of hours a week, there are on-going opportunities to help prepare dinners, drive and deliver meals, serve meals, clean up, make phone calls, just to name a few. You can find out more information as well as volunteer @ mealcall.org/volunteers.htm.
Meals on Wheels not only allows you the opportunity to serve others, but it also gives you the chance to personally connect with Senior Citizens in your own community, . . . people who 20-30 years ago, were just like you.
● Opportunities to Serve at Your Local Church or Synagogue
Your local Church or Synagogue can be a great resource for finding opportunities to serve in your community. Many times, they will have seasonal opportunities to serve in ways that are often known exclusively by your local Church or Synagogue through their connections and knowing of needs of people throughout the year. They may have feeding or mentoring ministries already in place where you could easily serve, or an upcoming Christmas Caroling at a Nursing Home that you could easily join in. This is also a great way to connect you with others who are serving and to counter the tendency of isolation that can accompany depression. A call to the church or synagogue or a visit to their website will inform you of the different opportunities.
● Habitat for Humanity
Habitat for Humanity is also a great way to serve others and has several Programs that address different needs and age groups throughout any given community, with many of them continuing even into the month of December. Nothing is more rewarding than being a part of a team that is helping another family with the most basic of human needs. You can view opportunities in your area at: habitat.org/getinv/.
● Find a Family or Individual to Serve and Help On Your Own
Now Stay With Me On This!
Though all the above are brilliant suggestions :-), the major problem with all these different options is the potential obstacle of Red Tape. Red Tape may be in the form of the organization’s procedure and protocol in dealing with volunteers, or the need for background checks in the day in which we live, or . . ., or scheduling conflicts, and on and on it can go. When all you are trying to do is help serve others, the Red Tape and ‘waiting for clearance’ might be all the obstacle you need to derail your newfound desire to cope with your holiday blues and depression of the Christmas Season.
But there is a way that you can bypass any potential Red Tape and guarantee success in serving others both during the Christmas Season or any time of year.
Here is what you do!
● As you go through your day, put on some different lenses than you may be use to and look for someone or some family who might need a little help this Christmas Season. They are all around you, . . . at your work, in the parking lot, maybe pushing a cart with all their belongings through the parking lot, cleaning the office, at the gas station, carrying your groceries, . . . they may go to school with your children or be a family of someone who goes to school with your children. It maybe someone you know and have seen before, or perhaps it is someone who is a complete stranger to you.
● If you can’t find anyone someone to help who crosses your path as you go through your normal day, a great way to find someone or even an entire family to serve and help this Christmas Season is to call your local church or synagogue and ask if they know of anyone who might need help. This could be someone within the church or someone who has called the church in the past weeks asking for help. They get calls continually from folks needing assistance with a variety of needs.
And then, when you find someone or some family to serve and help, . . . what do you do? How do you help when there is no organization providing the guidelines and direction?
● You can ask! You can dream! You can be creative! And then, you SERVE!
● You could ask the person what they are in need of at this time of year. But what can be most fulfilling is in light of what you might know about the person/family, to dream some and be creative about how you might serve them. Maybe it’s a gift, a gift card to a store where they could get a variety of things including groceries (e.g., Walmart or Target), anonymously pay a utility bill, have them into your home, take them a meal, take them a month's worth of groceries, take over a pre-decorated tree, be gracious, meet them or be anonymous.
One of the best ways to cope with the depression of the Christmas Season and the onslaught of The Holiday Blues is to serve others.
An ancient Rabbi once put it this way:
“Whoever seeks to keep his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life will preserve it.” (Luke 17:33)
Merry Christmas Everyone!