The Most Wonderful Time of the Year! Or Is It? - Geneva College, a Christian College in Pennsylvania (PA)

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December 15, 2017

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year! Or Is It?

If the “kids jingle belling and everyone telling you be of good cheer” makes you want to run away screaming or break down in tears, find consolation in what Ken Duckworth, M.D., medical director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, told WebMD: “I think a lot of people would say that the holidays are the worst time of the year. They’re just straight up miserable, and that’s not only for people with clinical depression.”

The pressure to be merry, bright, and gay when you’re feeling overwhelming sadness, grief, loneliness, or anger can be a painful burden. For people who already struggle with depression and anxiety, the weeks from mid-November through December’s end can feel like an exhausting uphill slog. The stark juxtaposition between how you feel and everyone else’s seemingly limitless joy and contentment can turn up the despair dial to 11.

On the outside looking in
In a piece for Psychology Today on holiday depression, author and psychologist Elaine Aron, Ph.D. sheds light on the common archetype of the outsider. People living in exile or estrangement from their families of origin know the painful feelings and patterns associated with this role very well, especially when the holidays come around. “There is nothing bleaker, or more dangerous to survival, than being alone in the cold, physically or emotionally hungry, left out, while others are gathered around the fire, sharing food and gifts and above all, love,” writes Aron. If you had a troubled childhood characterized by neglect or abuse, the popular song’s lyrics “hearts will be glowing when loved ones are near” probably leave you feeling miffed, angry, or empty. Or perhaps you were blessed with a warm and nurturing family life but find yourself approaching this holiday season without a loved one due to a recent death. Feelings of grief and loneliness are often compounded over the holidays if the previous year has brought illness, divorce, financial stress, unemployment, or other forms of life-changing loss. If you or someone you care about is having an especially difficult time coping with the holidays this year, see if a few of these strategies can help make the season easier. While it might not be the best Christmas you’ve ever had, it doesn’t have to be the worst, either.

1) Prioritize self-care.
Leave the selfless giving to others this year while you practice radical self-care. Deepen your commitment to the routines and habits that keep you healthy and centered, whether that means an extra 10 minutes of prayer and meditation every evening or adding a mile to your morning run. It’s more important than ever to eat as cleanly as possible and avoid alcohol to fortify yourself against stress, anxiety, and depression. It’s also biblical to accept other’s care for you, if needed.

2) Unplug from social media.
Spend less time than usual online, and avoid checking out friends’ Facebook or Instagram photos. Constant reminders of how much fun everyone else is having only encourage you to compare yourself to others, which is never healing or helpful.

3) Maximize time in nature.
Studies repeatedly show that exposure to nature reduces stress, decreases rumination, and boosts well-being. Natural environments are restorative and calming. Get outside in green areas as often as you can, even if it’s just a short walk through your local park or reading a book under your backyard tree.

4) Get your Zzzs.
Even small levels of sleep deprivation over time can chip away at your happiness, explains the National Sleep Association. Insufficient and “disrupted sleep can lead to emotional changes, clinical depression, or anxiety.” If you’re unable to consistently log from 7 to 9 hours of deep sleep after implementing good sleep hygiene habits, speak to your doctor.

5) Keep your expectations modest and your celebrations simple.
Let go of any visions you have of what the holidays are supposed to be like and how you’re supposed to feel. Take each day as it comes, cut yourself a ton of slack, and only participate in the rituals that have personal meaning for you this year. Maybe getting a live tree takes too much energy, or you’re just not in the mood to carry out your annual Christmas cookie bake-a-thon. Let them go. There’s always next year.

6) Practice saying “No, thank you.”
You’re not obligated to attend holiday parties, even the office Christmas party. Don't succumb to pressure or tradition if attending a social gathering would result in stress and anxiety for you. Those who love you will understand that you’re just not up to big celebrations this year, and your absence won’t ruin their good time.

7) Simplify gift-giving.
Loud shopping malls, unruly crowds, and the pressure of finding “the perfect gift” are the last things you need to deal with if you’re already feeling overwhelmed and depleted. Do all your shopping online this year, and if you can’t find a suitable gift quickly, go with gift certificates.

8) Take proactive control.
Identify the people or situations that trigger your holiday stress, and devise strategies to avoid them. If the annual Christmas call home has you filled with dread weeks before, tell your family in a card that you won’t be phoning this year. If there is an event that you must attend, pop in for 20 minutes and then make a graceful exit. Many of the energy-draining obligations involved in the holidays are born of self-imposed pressure to please.

9) Begin a new tradition.
Especially important if you’re trying to endure the first Christmas after a loss or separation, creating a brand-new tradition infuses your holiday season with fresh inspiration. How about Chinese food and a movie, a weekend trip to the ocean, or walking dogs at the local shelter? Choose something that has personal meaning for you, and let that serve as your unique way to celebrate the season and find the peace and joy you deserve.

10) Be gentle with yourself.
Do whatever it takes to create a serene, simple, and self-nurturing holiday for yourself. “It is the season of kindness and forgiveness, after all. Save some of it for yourself,” Dr. Ken Duckworth advises.

If you’d like to learn about the biblically based, Christ-centered education at Geneva, we’d love to chat with you. For more information on how Geneva College can help you pursue your career goals, please phone us at 855-979-5563 or email web@geneva.edu.