Depression, Grief, and the Holidays

One of these things is not like the other, right? Seemingly so, but deep down, if you’ve lived long enough, you have experienced the inescapable mix of these three things. In fact, it’s probably what attracted you to read this in the first place (either for yourself or someone you care about). And it’s probably also what led me to write it.

What are some things we can do about our emotions this time of year?

Understand that there’s a normalcy piece to this puzzle.

Ironically, I’m writing this on the day of Daylight Savings, potentially marking the beginning of emotional trouble for people like myself who have historically struggled with it getting darker in the late afternoon.

For one thing, give yourself a break and realize it’s a real thing. Whether you experience Seasonal Affective Disorder or just a slight dreariness as the sunlight gets cut off in late fall, touches of this are natural and are part of the human experience.

That’s why it’s a perfect contrast to celebrate Jesus’ coming in our winter months—to acknowledge His light breaking through the darkness, and why C. S. Lewis described the witch of Narnia’s curse to be one of the worst things a child (or perhaps anyone) could imagine: the witch’s curse made it “always wintertime but never Christmas.” What dread.

Realize things aren’t always as they seem (for everyone else you’re watching/following).

This can be another time when it’s easy to compare and feel like everyone else’s situation is exceedingly better than yours. People may be posting the grandest of events, holiday fanfare, taffeta and truffles, swag and ski slopes, but it’s likely very little of the whole story.

A friend of mine told me what Christmastime in “the city” was really like after living in New York City for over a decade. While we think of silver bells and Central Park, the bliss has a backdrop. In reality it is cold, and frankly, the loneliness felt in the city is thicker than the chill. The apartments are so minuscule; people cannot physically have guests. Like it or not, everyone remains isolated.

Try to catch yourself when you are tempted to compare this holiday, and fight against going there.  And if this is the truth about the tiny square footage of New York apartments, try the opposite approach when possible. Isolation might be the precursor to some of your feelings; community just might be the anecdote.

Insulate yourself.

Let’s be honest. The people who love this time of year embrace it because they consider it cozy and they picture themselves tucked away beside a fire. So if you don’t look forward to this season, reframe it. This idea picture of warmth when you need it most is yours for the asking. Consider this: The concept of the winter can actually be a very warm time when you insulate yourself with Scripture and time with the Lord. Memorize Scripture to combat the negative feelings and highlight God’s character and promise to you (which are, in fact, in direct opposition to your negative feelings). Memorize these, meditate on them during the day and at night when you cannot sleep, and add your own to the list. Here are some to get you started:

John 1:5 “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it (NLT).

Psalm 119:30 “The unfolding of your words gives light; it gives understanding to the simple.”

1 Corinthians 1:3-5 “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows.”

1 John 1:5 “This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.”

John 15:9-10 “I’ve loved you the way my Father has loved me. Make yourselves at home in my love. If you keep my commands, you’ll remain intimately at home in my love. That’s what I’ve done—kept my Father’s commands and made myself at home in his love” (MSG).

Jesus’ prayer to the Father in John 17:26 might be one of the ultimate Scriptures for insulation and comfort: “I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.”

Make others and yourself aware of your symptoms and what provokes them.

If your thoughts seem unmanageable, or if you see significant shifts in eating or sleeping patterns on either end of the pendulum (excessive or lacking), tell someone you trust, or contact a  health care provider or counselor. If there is a struggle with suicidal thoughts, reach out to 911, 1-800-SUICIDE or one of the following:

There is a way out of this pit, and someone can help you with the escape route.

Make note of what seems to cause the mood change for you, and make healthy, practical changes when appropriate. For example, a simple step is to take inventory of the rooms in your home where you spend the most time. Is there enough light? If insufficient light is the present atmosphere for you, consider adding a few lamps or increase wattage in your bulbs. Rearrange furniture or decoration if needed to allow proper light flow. And take a deep breath of relief that not every step towards healing has to be heavy and complicated!

Finally, wherever you find yourself on the emotional map this Christmas season, know that hope is at the core of it all.

My brother in Christ, Vernon Burger, puts it this way, “Darkness is a reality, but it simply is not ultimate.If you remember anything from this post, I urge you to remember God’s truth in this.

Recommended Reading:

For those of you who really want to try the reframe technique of anticipating the season as one of receiving warmth, consider taking this brand new book (released November 22, 2016) as a companion this winter: Learning to Ride Again by Amanda Stephens. Perfectly suited for our discussion here, her true story begins over the holidays, as the author describes coping with memories and disappointments. Follow along in this inspiring, true story of unexpected crisis, grief and healing, and witness the hope in the author’s raw and eventually redeemed path.

Follow Amanda on Facebook @amandastephenswrites

Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture is from the New International Version.