By Lee Anderson, Special Contributor…
There is a word that is linked to the holiday season that you won’t find on a Christmas card, or hear in a song, or see in a sale flyer: depression. Yet Google the phrase “depression during the holidays” and you’ll find a slew of information.
I’m not talking about major depression; what many experience can be called the blues, and is more of a beneath-the-surface melancholy. It is sometimes present in the background and sometimes front-and-center, and it’s not very clear why it’s there.
For some, the season is a glaring reminder of a loneliness that can be ignored the rest of the year. As the end of the year approaches, many reflect on past failures and an uncertain future. Grief, due to the loss of a person or other losses in life, can be heightened this time of year. For others, the expectations and demands the season presents create an overload of stress. Whatever the reason or reasons, if you are one who experiences depression this time of year it is important to remember that you are not alone . . . and there is nothing wrong with you.
There is no magical cure for depression of any kind, but there are ways to cope. I encourage you to put together a coping plan now. When you are in the midst of depression, making choices and taking action is incredibly difficult. Hew are a few tips:
Take care of your body. Overindulgence in food (especially sweets) and alcohol, combined with little rest, is the hallmark of the season. However, this can worsen your mood. Besides leaving you feeling sluggish and unmotivated, an increase in sugars, simple carbs, alcohol, and the caffeine you drink to keep you going can wreak havoc on brain chemistry. Take joy in the foods of the season, but mix in lots of whole grains, a variety of veggies, and foods or supplements rich in omegas and B-vitamins. Get exercise, plenty of sleep and lots of water.
Take care of your mind. Keep expectations realistic, and make a list of what is truly important to you this time of year. This year does not have to be the same as last year; life brings change. Set aside 15 minutes each day to turn off the phone, computer, TV, etc., and do some light stretching, go for a walk, or just sit in silence. Journaling is a great way to relieve stress and get in touch with what is going on for you.
Reach out to others. Someone else might need a friend right now too. Volunteering gets you out of your own troubles as you give to others.
Take care of your spirit. Advent is a spiritual time of year. It’s about waiting and watching for the Light and Hope of the world, and preparing ourselves to receive God’s love. Develop a daily Advent devotion time. There are many books available for this purpose. My church offers online daily devotions throughout Advent at http://christmas.trinityumc.org. Light candles and spend time in prayer or meditation; an Advent wreath is perfect for this practice. It’s OK to participate in the consumerism and secular festivities, but keep your focus on God.
Remember to leave room for the range of human emotions, rather than demand only joy and happiness from yourself (and from others).
May you find serenity and comfort in the coming of Christ this year.
Lee Anderson is care coordinator at Trinity United Methodist Church in Denver, Colo. This column originally appeared on Trinity’s blog.