Moving Past the Holiday Blues
Aren’t we supposed to look forward to the holidays? The truth is many of us find ourselves dreading them. Then after they’re over, we wonder why we seem to be carrying a ball and chain into the New Year. The holidays are supposed to be a time of connecting, sharing with family and friends; yet that thought alone can trigger anxiety, loneliness, and depression, especially if those relationships have been lost or aren’t what we had hoped for or expected.
For most of the year, we can chose to avoid thinking about the disappointments the holidays elicit, but that five week stretch from Thanksgiving to New Year’s provides a stark reminder for us that the story doesn’t always have a happy ending. Those feelings don’t simply go away after the Christmas tree comes down. They can often be compounded by the stress, exhaustion and disappointment we’ve experienced during the holiday rush. If family reunions haven’t gone as we painstakingly planned for the umpteenth time, we’re likely to feel all the more discouraged.
Moving Through the losses of Life
Life guarantees us two things: change and loss. Together they make up the unpredictable rhythm of life. They can also have catastrophic effects on our hearts, as well as our physical bodies. If you’ve lost a loved one, that loss becomes magnified during the holidays—and that grief can be hard to shake by January 1st. Because many people equate loss primarily with death, many are unaware that abstract losses like shattered dreams, and unmet expectations can have serious long-range consequences on the heart. These are the losses that often lie beneath the conscious surface and contribute to our experiencing that post-holiday depression. They’ve been there all along, we’ve just chosen to bury them in the name of “being strong.” Because loss tells the story of our hearts, it must not be silenced, but instead explored, and resolved.
While most of us have experienced “down” days for no apparent reason, clinical depression is something altogether different. Making our way through it can feel very much like wandering through a desert wilderness—-alone. And wilderness journeys always require something of us—our time, our energy, our physical comfort, and possibly our very lives. Those of us who make it out and manage to keep our faith intact go on to experience growth and spiritual maturity. Those who don’t, forfeit their hearts and souls. That’s why it’s important to know the difference between post-holiday blues and clinical depressive symptoms.
Bah Humbug or Serious Depression
So how does clinical depression differ from the weekly blues, and what can we do about it? First, we need to understand the symptoms of clinical depression. The American Psychiatric Association outlines the criteria for major depressive disorder in the DSM-IV (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders) by the following:
· Persistent blue sad mood for most of the day
· Diminished interest or pleasure in almost all activities most of the day
· Significant weight loss or weight gain, or decrease in appetite
· Insomnia or hypersomnia
· Fatigue or loss of energy
· Feelings of worthlessness or guilt
· Diminished ability to think, concentrate, or be decisive
· Recurrent thoughts of death, recurrent suicidal ideation with or without a specific plan. A suicide attempt or plan for committing suicide
As for the post-holiday blues, here are some things to do that may help:
· Manage what life stressors you can and learn to let go of the rest. Stress compounds anxiety and feelings of depression
· Practice good self-care skills
· Decide to forgive. Don’t allow past hurts and offenses to weight you down. Remember that forgiveness is for your benefit
· Allow yourself to grieve if you’re sad. When you bury your feelings, you simply bury them alive
· Don’t idealize the past. Your life, and your holidays may not be the same, but you can make new memories
· Surrender your rights to have things be the way you want them to, and be willing to face challenges
Remember you are the only one that can choose about your attitude—so choose life and have a happy new year!
Rita A. Schulte is a licensed professional counselor in No. Virginia. She hosts a weekly podcast show called Heartline where she talks to the leading counselors and authors in the country about cutting edge topics affecting the lives of people today.
Heartline is now airing on 90.5 FM in NC, and Rita’s 1 minute devotional spot, Consider This, is airing on 90.5 FM and 90.9 FM in Lynchburg, Va. Heartline will be coming to Christian Life Internet Radio in February 2012. Follow Rita at www.siftedaswheat.com. for counseling helps and to read the first chapter of her book.