The holidays are filled with family gatherings, Christmas carols, crowded shopping malls, beautiful worship services, childhood giddiness, gratitude and reflection on the year’s closure. However, it’s also a time when everywhere you look, there are reminders of holidays past, which for some may also remind them of pains past. It’s a time of year when you’re “supposed to feel happy,” and this forced façade of joy may be extremely draining. Family gatherings can increase conflict and the stress of trying to accomplish everything you think you “should” do for your holiday traditions may induce anxiety. For some, the shorter days may result in Seasonal Affective Disorder.
There’s no shortage of triggers which may result in holiday-related depression. If you or someone you love is struggling during the holidays, these resources may offer some encouragement:
Find a Therapist
First and foremost, find a mental health professional who can support you through this season. As detailed in a previous LightWorkers article, there are creative and affordable ways to find mental health support including Apps like Talkspace and BetterHelp that utilize smartphone technology to lend psycho-social support.
Find Support when Missing Loved Ones
When holiday memories are formed with a certain group of loved ones gathering every year, losing a member of that group can transition the gathering away from a time of joy and into a time of mourning.
This can extend beyond just mourning a death. Perhaps you’re personally unable to travel to be with the people you prefer to spend the holiday with, so going through a day where you feel like you should be surrounded with their love, but cannot, may feel isolating. Perhaps a relationship has ended and there’s grief to not be with a partner on the holiday. That’s okay. Your grief reflects how beautifully you loved that person while they still were in your life.
The holiday season does not need to be a time when everything goes perfectly.
Because of all the cultural focus on holiday gatherings, it can be very difficult to escape from feelings that others’ holiday celebrations are more “complete” than your own. Consider taking a social media fast on the actual holiday as well for the few days that follow so that “picture perfect” images of things that trigger a sense of isolation aren’t causing pain. Instead, find a way to connect with those in your community who also may feel that they’re missing someone this Christmas and work to create new holiday traditions together.
Coping with Large Crowds
Busy shopping malls, blow-out holiday parties and city-wide Christmas celebrations can all come with large crowds. This may trigger feelings of anxiety and deplete your energy.
It’s completely okay to decline attendance at a holiday gathering that may be draining for you…. And don’t be afraid to buy your gifts online to avoid the shopping malls. Identify the most important gathering(s) for you to attend and focus on building up your energy to be fully present there. Perhaps you decline attending your company’s holiday party so that you can instead be fully present at your church’s Christmas Eve service with your family.
Dealing with Financial Pressures
Christmas is not about presents. It’s easy to focus on consumerism pressures, but this is a time to focus on Christ’s birth and the love of family.
Set a firm budget of what you intend to invest in any gifts. Feel freedom to even say “I’m unable to buy gifts this year, but I hope to bless you in other ways instead.” Boundaries can help provide a sense of freedom. Getting caught up in “buy-buy-buy” pressure can result in regret and this financial stress can darken your spirits. Give of your love freely–this is truly enough.
Seasonal Affective Disorders (SAD) is a form of depression that arises when people don’t get enough sunlight and can occur in the colder winter months with shorter days. Holiday-related depression may be co-mingling with SAD. Talk to your doctor who can help you choose an appropriate light therapy box. An ideal light therapy box will expose you to 10,000 lux of light in an effort to mimic outdoor sunlight and typically the recommendation will be for you to spend 20-30 minutes receiving the lightbox’s emissions within the first hour of waking up.
Check out this round up of some affordable and well-designed light-therapy lamps.
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The holiday season does not need to be a time when everything goes perfectly. Your home does not need to look like a highly curated Pinterest photo. Your meal can feature turkey that’s a bit overcooked. You might not be able to buy every gift you seek to find. A crisis may emerge in December and completely change everything you had planned for the month. This is okay.
Find the support you need, wherever it may come from—family, friends, a trusted therapist, church, through prayer, at work…. Wherever you find support, lean into it and receive it. Soon, the holidays will conclude and the triggers will fade away as well. In the interim, whatever you feel is valid and Christ’s love exists to support you through it.
If you or someone you know needs support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.