Christmas and Depression

Why do people get depressed during the time of holiday cheer? Maybe it is the expectation that during special times of the year, their struggles are not acceptable. I mean, no one wants to hear about it! But the problems don’t just disappear because the season changes. That, along with guilt over the inability to “rally oneself”, combines to create more stress and pressure.

And we all know ( especially mothers) that Christmas is performance time. Not just concerts and such, but performance of innumerable tasks that are requisite for creating a holiday. Not that I’m complaining, or -despite that last post of mine- that I have been personally depressed this year. But some years I have struggled with trying to make myself “snap out” of feelings of exhaustion, failure, and sadness.

I think there are several dynamics for people with no extraordinary challenges, such as the death of a loved one, or unemployment, etc. For just everyday situations the addition of holiday expectations can be pretty stressful. I think that is because we tend to rachet everything up into high gear. When I read of the activities of Christmas pasts, I don’t see this crazed frenzy of having to cram all the activity and preparations for Christmas into the modern metamorphosis that Christmas season has changed into. There was a limited choice of special activities, foods, and decorations.

And it isn’t like we don’t recognize it, or try valiantly to turn the stream. We do. We talk about having something simpler, of how we will not get caught up in running from mall to mall in a harried attempts to satisfy that inner craving to just produce the best Christmas ever…! but it gets down to the 15th or so, and there we are…. wandering dazed about the mall, or in Walmart, trying to fill the list with …. what? An effort to make up for a year of putting off attending to each other and learning how to relate? It wasn’t like that in former times.

The way celebrating holidays was viewed was on a longer timeline within the year. And along the way, there was much less expectation of perfection in work output. I read an account of a Swedish traditional Christmas, for example. The anticipation of the wonderful Christmas feast offset the fact that the preparations meant haphazard family mealtimes and menus in the meantime. The traditions were annual, and communal. While it is human nature to compete with outdoing one anothers efforts, there wasn’t a demand for the perfection of entertaining and spotless house that we have come to identify with the holiday. A clean house was part of the preparations that started several months previously, and the whole process was much simpler than today. There was emphasis on making efforts to do small good works that can make life so much more worthwhile, not manufactured high strung gaiety. So, I think there was more to buoy ones spirits and less to drain them.

If someone starts out depressed or stressed, they fight a losing battle in trying to maintain their equilibrium. But the answer is really within the core of the holiday itself. The story of Jesus’ nativity is very simple, and yet full of tenderness towards the misunderstood, the ones operating on the outskirts of humanity’s fickle sense of appropriateness and worthiness. It is full of the message that even though no one seems to care… and in the darkest of hours, the most pressing of times… God is watching, cares, and is ready to present the ultimate answer. Not the quick solution, by any means, but the lasting one that builds hope, and rewards hope. That there are spiritual forces at work, even when you least expect it- angels are about, and in the smallest, most unprepossessing of persons there is a great resolution for all the problems and needs.

There is something to anchor onto- that hope against hope.

So this Christmas, if you find yourself struggling , let the pressure off. Do that for yourself. Whittle down the list to finding the most worthwhile efforts in the holiday season and work toward a day by day celebration of living. A celebration that reaches far beyond December 25th. Find something small to do for someone else. Be happy and bask in the moment of it. Choose something that will make you feel happy about your holiday. Is it baking a batch of cookies, -just one batch instead of shopping for more things that nobody needs or wants? Is it sitting quietly composing a Christmas letter…that if you don’t have a list of super duper accomplishments…. holds, instead a message from your heart, and thoughts of those you are writing to? Just be creative in changing your focus, even if it seems in the smallest of increments.

….and why not spend a little time meditating on God’s love for you? listening to some beautiful music ( it doesn’t have to relate to the season)…or finally …just counting the blessings that you already have and can be thankful for?

I think that Jesus might be pleased with these gifts and efforts.

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