When “The Most Wonderful Time of The Year” isn
Coping With the Hardships of the Holidays
It’s the most wonderful time of the year. Food, friends, family, fellowship, and fun are amongst the things that many look forward to during the holiday season. However, for many the holidays are anything but a Merry Christmas and a Happy Holiday. All throughout the holiday season people are bombarded by commercials, store front windows, billboards and other unrealistic expectations of all the fun that they should be experiencing. The months of November and December often times exasperate mental health issues for a lot of people. The term “holiday blues” arose from the negative effects on the mood that many suffer during the holidays.
Circumstances, expectations, and experiences effect people differently during the season and for some people it is one of the hardest times of the year. However, seasons change and holidays come and go, but God never changes. Hebrews 13:8 says that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.” The same God who is with us in June, July, and August is the same God that is with us in November and December. Malachi 3:6 says, “I the Lord do not change. So you, the descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed.” Despite the Israelites history of rebellion God never allowed them to be destroyed! The Lord never changes.
Even throughout the Christmas season He doesn’t want His children living in defeat! Depression, loneliness, stress, anxiety, family struggles, relationship issues, grief, and financial burdens do not have to define the holidays this year. Instead, rest this season in the hope and joy found only in Christ.
The months of November and December often times exasperate mental health issues for a lot of people.
SAD is seventy-five percent more common in women between the ages of 15 and 55.
Sad, or S.A.D.?
Six out of one hundred people in the United States will experience winter depression. The DSM defines this as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Another twenty percent of people will experience mild symptoms of SAD. It is seventy five percent more common in women who are between the ages of fifteen and fifty-five.
The added stress associated with the holiday season combined with shorter days and less time outside lead people to experience “holiday blues.” SAD symptoms include change in appetite, fatigue, tendency to oversleep, avoidance of social situations, and irritability. Often times, symptoms start towards the end of September lasting until the end of February. However, the symptoms are heightened during the months of November and December (Gale, 2008).
Loneliness is now considered a major public health threat and feelings of loneliness greatly increase during the holidays when people expect to feel the most togetherness. Approximately 43 million individuals admit to feeling chronic loneliness. Loneliness can lead to many mental health struggles, as well as physical health. Cardiac disease and stroke have been linked to loneliness (Strattell, 2017). Social media has heightened the loneliness that people feel year round, but especially during the holidays. Loneliness is intensified when others feel as if they are the only one who feels alone.
Stress & Anxiety
About two thirds of people report that stress and anxiety are the first things that come to mind when thinking about the holiday season. However, most of it comes from unnecessary stressors. High expectations and demands can lead to feelings of failure and disappointments. Over committing to events and taking on more responsibilities can lead to overwhelming stress. Social situations can also lead to an increase in anxieties. Having the perfect outfit, making sure the house is spotless, having to make small talk, making it to every family function, etc. leads to an increase in anxiety during the holiday season. The excessive stress and anxieties, if not handled, can lead people to withdraw and not do anything during the holiday season. They do not shop, decorate, attend parties, or give gifts because the anxiety and stress is just too much to handle (Gale, 2004).
Most stress and anxiety comes from unnecessary stressors.
With imperfect people coming together for the holidays, understanding the value and implications of our speech is so important.
Parents, siblings, stepparents, grandparents, children and others love connecting with their families during the holidays. More time with families and friends means more potential for issues and relational struggles. This is especially true for new couples that are navigating joining two families together and recent empty nesters getting use to new family traditions. There are many things that can increase relational differences during the holidays. Learning to have useful and positive conversations with those we are closest to is crucial during the holiday season. James 3 gives a lot of wisdom on controlling our tongue and speech, James 3:5 “Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark.” With imperfect people coming together for the holidays understanding the value and implications of our speech is so important. Such a small part of our bodies can make a huge impact. Understanding a forest can be set on fire by a small spark is so important in navigating family relationships. We can avoid a lot of family issues and struggles by controlling our tongues.
Holidays are especially hard on individuals who are grieving. Often times grief makes people want to skip the holidays entirely. Holidays can be even tougher when one realizes that others are not experiencing the hurt and grief that they are. People who are grieving often times do not want to participate in all the festivities of the holidays. The traditions and experiences that were once satisfying now carry hurt and hardship. During the holiday season grieving individuals feel pressure to do more than they want to do. Old traditions can carry intense pain and hardships, but it is difficult to start new ones. However, even though it is tough, starting new traditions can be helpful in coping. Grieving people can find comfort in talking to others who are also experiencing grief this holiday season (Handling holidays and difficult times. (2011).
Financial stress during the holiday season can lead to financial stress in the new year. Forty-five million Americans report that they would rather skip the season than deal with the financial pressure that accompany the holiday season. There is increased pressure from holiday shopping and an increase in January bills. Many Americans continue to increase their credit card debt and financial struggles. Saving throughout the year is crucial. However, many of the financial stressors can be overcome by making a budget and sticking to it. Also, learning to explore other ideas of gift giving and spending time together without spending money is a way many Americans can cope with holiday financial pressure (Kendall, 2014).
Talk To God
Psalm 34:17, “The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears them; He delivers them from all their troubles.” Spending more time crying out to God is one of the most helpful things in combating seasonal depression. Telling God feelings and expectations and then asking Him to deliver us from our troubles of hopelessness and depression. Claim the promises of God. Read His word and hold His truths and promises close to your heart this holiday season.
Make A Realistic Plan
Creating a holiday plan is crucial in overcoming holiday depression. Start the holidays knowing exactly what the season will consist of for you and your family. Visibly look at a calendar of the end of November and December and schedule every holiday event, as well as, your normal everyday routine. Trying to stay in somewhat of a consistent routine is hard at the holidays, but crucial in overcoming the “holiday blues.” Every day should have some pieces of normalcy. It is good for the brain knowing this happens every day no matter what time of the year. Do not blindly stumble throughout the season. Know what you are going to, where you will be, and who is going to be there. Share your plan with family members so they know what events to expect you at and what events you cannot attend. A calendar allows you to see what is actually happening and keeps reality in check. It is up to you to manage your calendar. If you do not want to spend every spare moment at a holiday party or family gathering, then don’t. If you want to stay busy and have expectations of parties and events then make it happen. It is up to you to control your time and holiday schedule. With complete self- awareness know how much or how little you can handle. Too much of a good thing is not good, especially in the midst of depression, anxiety, and grief.
Take Time to Refuel
As part of your holiday plan make sure that you include ample time to take care of your mental health. Schedule extra time for exercise during the holiday season. Physical activity is crucial in mood stability. Exercise makes the brain release dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin which are natural mood stabilizers. Schedule in your rest time too. Make sure that you are getting enough sleep and having time to do whatever it is that energizes you. Rest in the midst of the craziness. Take a nap, sit and watch TV, hunt, read a book, but whatever it is, take time to refuel. Be realistic in your expectations of yourself. Do not try to do everything and be everything that everyone else wants you to be.
Trying to stay in somewhat of a consistent routine is hard at the holidays, but crucial in overcoming the “holiday blues.”
Find the Balance of Alone Time
Make sure that you do not withdraw during the holiday season. Often times when people are struggling with “holiday blues” their tendency is to withdraw and try to handle it on their own. You do not need to try to handle things on your own. Let people in. Social support improves one’s ability to cope with anxiety and stress. It is also proven to improve mood and life satisfaction (Shattell, 2017).Tell your inner circle how you are feeling or what you are going through. You need your people and they need you. Do not shut them out, because you think that they cannot relate. If you are uncomfortable talking to an inner circle of your people find a counselor. The enemy comes to steal, kill, and destroy and often times he does this best in our solitude. Find the balance between the alone time you need to function well and the alone time in which the enemy is at full force working to steal kill and destroy!
Be Present, Be Positive
Do not assume the worst, but do not build up impossible expectations. Often times seasonal depression starts, because of the lies we tell ourselves in our brain. People spend approximately one half of all of our time that we are awake in a state of mind wandering. We are not present, but instead caught up in the regrets of our past and thoughts and worries about what will happen in the future. Our thoughts are often negative and we have automatic stressful reactions to them (Shattell, 2017). We build up scenarios and reactions in our brain rather than living in the present. We think things will be a certain way, people will do certain things and in all reality it might not happen the way we think it will. The holidays really might not be as bad as you expect. Often times the anticipation can be the worst part. Stop your mind from assuming the worst. However, your holiday might not be a Hallmark Movie or the perfect Instagram post either. Do not expect perfection, because imperfect people make up the families and friends that we spend our holidays with.
Focus On Others
Often times our mindset about the holiday season comes from the pressure we put on ourselves. We have to do this, we have to give the best presents, we have to be everywhere, etc. Change the holiday focus from you to others. Take off the pressure of being everything to everybody and do something for others that does not have anything to do with their expectations of you. Help someone else. Maybe it is someone you know or maybe it is not. Do something for someone less fortunate or in need. Do something good without any expectation of anything in return. The act of giving is clinically proven to help mental health. Helping someone else always makes us feel good. Whether you are struggling with depression or grief, helping someone else gives a big boost to self -worth. Use this time to help others and in return help yourself.
The act of giving is clinically proven to help mental health.
This Christmas Can Be Wonderful
In all reality, the problems one struggles with throughout the year become more intensified during the holiday season. Everything during the holidays is about more, so it is only fitting that problems can also increase. If throughout the year people struggle financially, then of course, the holidays are hard because we are expected to spend more money. If people struggle with family problems and relationship issues, then of course, it is increased during the holidays, because we spend more time with our families. If one lacks family and friends then loneliness is increased as we are expected to spend more time with family and friends (Foglino, 1998). However, even though the potential for problems are increased so is the hope that is found in the belief in Jesus. As we celebrate the birth of Jesus and his life the key to experiencing fullness this season is believing. Romans 15:13, “Now the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing.” The opposite of the “holiday blues” is joy and peace! We experience this joy and peace from believing! There was no hope before Jesus entered the world. He is our hope! You can experience “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year” by putting your hope and trust in the Wonderful Counselor!
The key to experiencing fullness this season is believing.
End of Daylight-Saving Time + Holidays = Depression in Twenty Percent of Women.” Women’s Health Weekly 6 Nov. 2008: 480. Business Insights: Global. Web. 1 Dec. 2020.
Foglino, A. (1998, 11). Unhappy holidays. Joe Weider’s Shape, 18, 46-48. http://ezproxy.liberty.edu/login?qurl=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.proquest.com%2Fdocview%2F195306151%3Faccountid%3D12085
Handling holidays and difficult times. (2011). The Harvard Mental Health Letter, 28(6), 7.
Kendall-Reed, P. (2014, 11). HOLIDAY STRESS. Natural Solutions, , 40-43. http://ezproxy.liberty.edu/login?qurl=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.proquest.com%2Fdocview%2F1642188371%3Faccountid%3D12085
Shattell, M., & Johnson, A. (2017). Three Simple Mindfulness Practices to Manage Holiday Stress. Journal of Psychosocial Nursing & Mental Health Services, 55(12), 2-4. http://dx.doi.org.ezproxy.liberty.edu/10.3928/02793695-20171117-01
Survey reveals stress, anxiety prevent many women from enjoying the holidays.” Women’s Health Weekly 8 Jan. 2004: 48. Business Insights: Global. Web. 1 Dec. 2020.