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Why Some People Get Depressed Around the Holidays (And what to do about it)

This is supposed to be the “most wonderful time of the year”. What’s the big deal? Why are so many people acting like they just want to get it over with? Sure, there are some genuine scrooges out there but most people really do deal with a lot of negative emotion around this time of year. Most of the people I know really struggle because not only are they experiencing all these horrible feelings but then they feel guilty for feeling that way as well. So here’s the question: Why do some people get the blues this time of the year?

1. Unrealistic expectations.

Ever watched “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation”? It’s a holiday classic with Clark Grisswald believing this is going to be the best Christmas ever because everyone is coming to his house. What he finds is something a little closer to reality. There are family fights, rouge squirrels, snotty dogs, mean neighbors, crazy shopping, crazy uncles, and more. Many times we build up Christmas to be something so huge and then when it turns out to not live up to our unrealistic expectations, we feel let down.

2. Focusing on the bad memories.

Many people feel down at Christmas because Christmas is a great magnifier. If you are alone throughout the year, you feel very alone at Christmas. People tend remember who’s not there and what is not happening rather than focusing on all the good moments.

3. Trying to do too much.

This one is close to the unrealistic expectations. You try to make plans to see everyone because it is the holidays and you are suppose to, right? You don’t want to upset anyone but end up making everyone unhappy because you have little time to spend at any one place. In between buying presents for everyone, attending all the parties and Christmas programs, serving at the church and with the local Salvation army, mailing Christmas cards, and… you are exhausted.

4. Their highlight reels vs. your everyday boredom.

This is a big one. You see your friend was just gifted a trip to the Bahama’s for Christmas. You then go home and see the only present for you under the tree looks suspiciously like a bowling ball or a new vacuum cleaner.  What we don’t realize is that friend may have received nothing for Christmas the past five years and is overdue for a little holiday cheer. We tend to see other people’s big moments and think we are lacking because those moments are not happening to us. There’s usually always a story to go with their success which places things into much better perspective. However, we usually do not get to hear that.

5. Slacking on self-care.

With everything we mentioned above, slacking on self-care is usually inevitable.  We do not exercise the way we should, get adequate sleep, and there’s usually nothing healthy to eat at those Christmas parties. We end up feeling heavy, tired, and out of energy.

6. Experiencing symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder.

If you tend to start feeling down when winter approaches each year, and those negative feelings don’t go away after the holidays are over, you may have Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). According to Sichel, many people who think they are suffering from a case of holiday blues may actually be suffering from SAD, a form of depression that’s brought on by the change of seasons. But SAD shouldn’t be dismissed as mere “winter blues” — talk to your doctor if you’re experiencing symptoms of the disorder to find a treatment that works for you.

So, what do we do about it? First of all, we must realize we should never give up hope. Here are a few Bible verses about hope:

God encourages us to “call upon [Him] in the day of trouble; I will deliver you” (Psalm 50:15).

The grace of God in Jesus Christ is the sum of all hope (Colossians 1:5-6, 23, 27; 1 Timothy 1:1).

God wanted to make known among the Gentiles the glorious wealth of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory (Colossians 1:27).

“We have placed our hope in Him that He will deliver us again” (2 Corinthians 1:10b).

I recently read an article by Sam Williams from LifeWay about dealing with Depression around the holidays. Thought I’d share Sam’s great insight:

8 Strategies for Dealing with Depression

Here are some practical strategies for helping others who are facing depression. However, never assume there are no medical issues that need attention.

  1. Describe the experience. Ask people to describe their experience of depression in vivid detail. People are different, so depression comes in many shapes and sizes.
  2. Identify the causes. Depression often is not just something we have, it is something we do. Invite people to examine their own hearts with this question: If your depression could speak, what would it say? What does it say about you? To others? To God? Depression is an active experience and can result from many sources other than the physiological: guilt due to unconfessed sin, false guilt, misplaced shame, ungodly fears, suppressed bitterness or hatred, hopeless grieving, and unbiblical expectations.
  3. Read and observe Scripture. Ask people with whom you work to study Psalms 42-43. How does the psalmist address God? What does he preach to himself?
  4. Act on the truth. Those who seek help first must accept the challenge of faithful obedience, even though they do not feel like it and are skeptical that anything will make a difference, it’s important to have faith. Also, explain to them that progress out of the pit is step-by-step, bit-by-bit. Small, practical, consistent faith-based change occurs in the details.
  5. Look at lifestyle. Evaluate and provide recommendations for lifestyle problems, such as overworking, lack of exercise, sleep difficulties, procrastination, unresolved stressors, absence of spiritual disciplines.
  6. Resolve conflicts. Deal with troubled relationships, past or present.
  7. Get to work. Assign active loving tasks performed for the benefit of others. Helping others can provide a new perspective on life.
  8. See a doctor. Refer depressed persons to a Christian physician to rule out physical causes if a physician has not been contacted already. Persons who are already taking multiple medications may need a physician’s care to avoid further complications.

So, what do you do when you feel the Winter Blues? Tell me about it.

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