Good News For The Holiday Blues
This popular phrase is written and heard everywhere during the holiday season. It is the time of year when the spirit of love seems to be operating at its highest peak, and we are supposed to experience nothing but peace and joy.
Yet, for some, their holidays are anything but “happy.” I have experienced feelings of sadness during the holidays and I have seen sadness operating in the lives of close relatives and friends. Especially when a loved one who once had a vital presence within the circle of family Christmas time celebrations is no longer around, happiness during the holidays can feel impossible—and the social pressure to seem happy makes it worse.
Whether due to stress, fatigue, unrealistic expectations, financial pressures, illness, death of a loved one, or physical distance from friends or family, the “holiday blues are not uncommon. For some, the feeling passes soon after the holidays are over. For others, it may linger day after day. And it does not matter whether someone is Christian or not. Rich or not. Homeless or not. Young or not. Female or not. Employed or not.
The holiday blues can affect anyone.
In my search for a deeper understanding of the holiday blues, I reached out to Sarah Matias (LMSW), a social worker for over 20 years who has 5 years of experience as a clinical psychotherapist. Sarah said,
Since I treat people with chronic mental health issues, I often see an increase in symptoms of depression and anxiety during the holidays. Changes in eating, drinking, and sleeping, which can add to the stress on our bodies, may result in feelings of depression and anxiety. If someone has an underlying vulnerability for depression, the added stress of the holidays can lead to a depressive episode.”
Sarah also has personal experience with the holiday blues, and her story gives us clues for how to move through them:
I lost my father just after Christmas when I was 26. He loved the holidays, did all the cooking, and left a huge hole in our family. My memories of the holidays with him were of giving back to others. Putting together care packages for the residents in drug treatment at Teen Challenge, cooking meals for them, inviting people over who didn’t have family, and finding ways to help others that were less fortunate. My husband and I made the decision that we wanted to raise our children with the experience of giving back to others at the holidays, much like I had witnessed my father doing throughout my childhood. One of our favorite Christmas memories was taking our two young daughters with us to deliver Project Angel Tree gifts to a family along the border of Mexico when we were pastoring a church in El Paso. We arrived on Christmas morning at an adobe one-room house with dirt floors and the family cooking outdoors over an open fire. They were so appreciative for the gifts for their children, they insisted we join them for homemade tortillas and we stood around the open fire and shared a meal together that Christmas morning in the desert. We can all benefit from remembering that the important things at the holidays are not about what money can buy, but rather caring for one another, spending time together, and sharing the love of our Savior who’s birth we are celebrating with those around us.”
So Sarah found that her Christian faith was important in helping her overcome feelings of sadness, both during and beyond the holidays. I’ve also found that a combination of faith along with a proper understanding of why feelings of sadness settle in someone’s heart and mind during the holidays can strengthen my ability to dissipate the holiday blues.
Matthew 6:25-33 (NRSV) is a wonderful passage of Scripture that speaks about worry and anxiety. It includes these encouraging words:
Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?”
God already knows everything we need. It presents a powerful message of comfort and peace. Turning to the scriptures during times of worry, anxiety, and sadness is always a good idea.
However, it may take professional counseling to help put someone on the path to restoring their inner peace. Sarah gently suggested that, “If the holidays regularly bring about a sense of malaise, then it is worth exploring this with a counselor.” She recommended three courses of action when you or a loved one is in a continuous cycle of feeling blue:
- Be aware of your feelings. Do not ignore them.
- Practice healthy coping skills: take care of yourself and connect with positive, supportive people.
- Reach out for help when additional support is needed.
There are various avenues of professional help available for anyone who recognizes there is a need for it: psychologists, Christian counselors, social workers.
Even though the season seems packed with activity, we need to pay more attention to the behavior and attitudes of those close to us during the holidays. Being around people we love and care about, especially when they show genuine love and care for us, can help relieve those “blue” feelings—over the years, I have definitely experienced this.
This holiday season, let us be intentional about sharing appropriate scriptures, taking the time to show encouragement and love. Let us also take courage and talk about getting professional help with those experiencing the holiday blues. That may be the best gift we can give to someone we love this holiday season.