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"If it's the season for comfort and joy, why do I feel so sad?"
If you’ve ever had this thought, you are not alone. For people struggling with depression, seasonal affective disorder, addiction, or a recent loss, holiday cheer can seem like a cruel joke. The rest of the world seems to be rejoicing while you’re struggling to get through the day. Every Christmas carol seems to mock your inability to share the joy, and festive gatherings only highlight your isolation.
Many of us are facing the coming holidays with an aching heart. According to the Centers for Disease Control, depression spikes during the fall and spring (not the winter) and suicides actually decrease slightly during the winter holidays. But if you happen to be depressed during this season of celebration these statistics don’t matter. All you know is your heart is hurting while others rejoice.
How can you get through this season with your sanity intact? Articles elsewhere in this newsletter give tips for managing your moods during the holidays. But I will share a few additional thoughts here.
Take one day at a time. The time-honored Alcoholics Anonymous axiom applies even—or especially –during the holiday season. Surviving an entire season’s worth of parties and family gatherings while you’re depressed is an intimidating prospect. But you don’t need to live all the twelve days of Christmas at once. Focus on only today’s social event, and remember you can say no to some invitations.
If you’re in recovery from substance abuse, be selective in accepting party invitations. You needn’t attend every function, and no one will notice if your glass is filled with sparkling water instead of champagne. If you’re in a twelve-step program, maintain contact with your recovery partners. You need their support now more than ever, and you have every right to schedule holiday activities around your regular recovery meetings, not the other way around. Maintaining sobriety is still your priority.
Stop being a people-pleaser. This may be the season of giving, but it shouldn’t become the season of neglecting yourself. Those prone to depression, seasonal dysthymia, and substance abuse tend to set others’ needs above their own. This is the straightest path to disaster. It’s not your job to make others happy. It is your job to stay stable. Recognize that others can help you, and allow them to be strong for you sometimes.
Remember what this season is all about. Even before Christianity, people observed the shortest day of the year with festive ceremonies. Evergreens and holly reminded them that nature would recover from winter, and lights defied the darkest season of the year. The holidays are about hope, about finding joy in spite of the cold and dark. Is there any better message for those hurting during the holidays?
If you’re struggling this Christmas, remember that hope and faith are in our genes. The cycle of the seasons reminds us that renewal is never far away. So, as the scriptures and carols tell us: fear not, and be of good cheer.