Ready or not, the holidays are upon us: a time to give thanks, celebrate the birth of Jesus and usher-in a new year.
But what is supposed to be the most wonderful time of the year, is actually the opposite. Millions of Americans dread the holidays and are especially sad at this time of year.
Sources of Sadness
Karen McGrath is one of those people, who feel especially sad during the holidays.
"Leading up to it, you just think it's going to be too painful and you can't handle it," she said.
McGrath's son, Chandon, died three years ago in a diving accident. Both of her parents died a short time after that. Then came a divorce, which means her kids will spend much of the holidays with their dad.
"There's a hole, there's an emptiness there's a longing that you want to be with them instead of being left here," she lamented.
It's not just the absence, or loss of family that contribute to the holiday blues.
"These holiday times, a lot of times are tense and there's a lot of angst regarding family members if your family has been problematic all year long, most likely when they show up at your house, things are going to be problematic," said Dr. Linda Mintle, a family therapist.
In addition to relationship problems, another source of sadness at at the holidays is the belief that happiness depends on how much money we spend. And with unemployment in double digits, there may be lots of people who feel inadequate.
Ways To Help Beat The Holiday Blues
- Plan ahead. Make a budget for gifts, travel, food and donations. Schedule tasks such as holiday shopping, baking, decorating so they are less stressful.
- Reach Out. Focusing on someone else tends to lift your spirit and theirs. Churches, hospitals and nursing homes all need volunteers this time of year.
- Let Go of Grievances. In other words, bury the hatchet.
"Even though that person is difficult and maybe even mean at times, you be the person of Christ to that person," Dr. Mintle advised. "You exercise grace. You exercise forgiveness. You give them the benefit of the doubt and you do what Jesus said. You bless those who curse you. You love your enemies. You act like Jesus to that person and you would be surprised at how far that can go in the long run."
- Be With People. Schedule get-togethers well in advance, attend meetings, parties, church services, etc. Don't get caught alone. Isolation can lead to depression.
- Get Creative. If you can't be with your loved ones find new ways to celebrate together such as sharing pictures, e-mails or videos.
- Exercise. It's a powerful mood booster because during exercise the body releases endorphins, neurotransmitters that have euphoric and pain-relieving properties similar to morphine. Amanda Letterman works-out for the emotional kick she gets from it.
"If there's a day I'm having a bad day I'm stressed out, I'm tired, sometimes working out reverses all of that," she said. "So I come into the gym I forget about my problems I concentrate on what i'm actually doing physically and it helps me mentally."
Unfortunately, exercise is one of the first things skipped during the holidays. Some gyms offer incentives to keep their members moving during the holidays. The YMCA is giving shirts to each member who works-out at least three times a week. If you work-out with other people, the social interaction is an added bonus, says Seth Milbrand of the YMCA, who can attest to the energy boost members experience every time they walk through the door.
"When somebody knows your name, it just feels good," he explained. "It feels good to see someone you know and with the small groups and small communities that we form here, people really have that sense of community."
- Eat Healthy. Overindulgence leads to feelings of guilt and lethargy.
- Get Plenty of Rest. You'll need a good night's sleep to tackle the emotional demands of the holidays and to prevent getting sick when you can least afford to be side-lined.
- Pray Daily. Dr. Mintle says it's important to make time to get your life in focus.
"Talking to God, slowing yourself down, allowing for quiet time, giving your mind a chance to rest in the Lord and really focus on who God is and what he says about you," she said.
McGrath can testify to God's healing during the difficult holiday season.
"I mean, how else could I do it? If I didn't have God, there's no way, I'd be in a mental hospital," she said.
So by taking spiritual and practical steps, you can enjoy good emotional health throughout the holidays.
*Originally published November 24, 2009.