Dr. Deb’s Mental Health Vitamin: Battling depression during the holidays
By Dr. Deb Wade
GCU Vice President, Counseling and Psychological Services
“Chestnuts roasting on an open fire …”
“It’s the most wonderful time of the year …”
“Have a holly, jolly Christmas …”
“Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow …”
What nostalgia those songs of Christmas can summon in one’s heart! The scenes in the songs depict a cozy, warm, inviting atmosphere along with the notion of family and friends lazing around the fireplace with lights all aglow.
Yes … that sounds so inviting, and one just wants to rest in the moment and savor the time. AND yet, there are those who don’t feel this inviting, warm, cozy, amicable setting to retreat to because this past year may have brought deep loss and grief.
In fact, the mere mention of the holiday that is upon us can summon feelings of loneliness, disappointment, sadness, despair and even rage, especially when one is experiencing the loss of a loved one and the accompanying grief that seems pervasive.
When all that surrounds us is festive and joyful but all that is within us is grieving or barely surviving, the holidays can be very difficult to weather. Others want you to just “cheer up” and “count your blessings” and “join in the fun” – but, inside, your heart may be screaming for salve and comfort and understanding.
The reality is that a depressed mood resulting from loss can rear its ugly head during a time that is supposed to be festive, jolly and joyful, and its mere presence during this time feels like wearing an oversized, ill-fitted suit.
Normally, Christmas summons fond remembrances of years past that are comforting ones to revisit. However, when the present is wrought with emotional distress, sadness and loss, the mere attempt at coping with these emotions is exhausting and can leave one completely depleted.
If you are experiencing sadness and loss and are grieving the absence of a loved one, there are some tools you can access. Let’s examine …
- There may be a strong tendency to isolate. Instead, surround yourself with caring, loving and supportive people. Encourage the sharing of fond, funny and tender memories of your loved one. Remember, everyone in the family feels the loss of the missing family member, too. Reminiscing about that loved one is sure to bring smiles to everyone’s face, whereas avoiding any discussion of the loss only worsens and feeds sad feelings.
- If you need to take a short break from the festivities to have a cry, do so! Tears are healthy and cleansing … and they also need an outlet. Then dry your eyes, march back in to the festivities and allow yourself the opportunity to celebrate once again.
- Remember, alcohol is a depressant. Whether the alcohol would serve as a social lubricant or to just “take the edge off,” drinking at this vulnerable time can backfire. It can send you into deeper sadness and grief, and the result is just not worth it.
- Don’t allow perfectionism to wear you down even further. To pursue Christmas with the sole intent of surrounding yourself with loved ones is ENOUGH! At this tough time, wearing yourself down physically by trying to reach “perfect” in your decorations and cooking will only contribute to your emotional weariness. Delight in the gathering, depend on your closest family/friends to support you, and be authentic in your needs – to cry, to laugh, to mourn, to celebrate.
- Finally, but most importantly, remember that the Lord Almighty is still on the throne! He loves you, He will provide for you, He will be the Great Consoler … just picture yourself crawling into His lap and letting Him embrace you like a child! He is Emmanuel … God with us!
Yes, when the joyfulness of the season intersects with a depth of loss that is indescribable, the result can be difficult and confusing. Be true to yourself, savor the comfort of a few close friends/family and rest in Him! Merry Christmas!