By Rev. Jeanne Hanson
Executive Director, Samaritan Counseling Center of the Northwest Suburbs
Holidays are some of the hardest times for those who have lost loved ones recently or who live alone, or who feel outside of the hustle and bustle of holiday parties and religious celebrations. People who have suffered from depression or are struggling with grief often find that Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas and New Years are especially difficult times. Trying to put on a happy face gets old fast and if you work or go to any store it’s impossible to avoid the seasonal soundtracks and decorations assaulting the senses. Are you a Scrooge to want to hide until January 2nd? No, not at all. You’re smart to recognize your limits. Here are some ways to cope with the holiday blues.
1. Share your struggle with someone you trust who won’t judge and is a good listener. It could be a friend, family member, clergy or counselor, as long as you feel safe, supported and heard.
2. If you are dealing with the loss of a loved one, the memories of the past are both a blessing (because of the love that created them) and a burden (because of the pain missing him/her causes.) Recognizing that the depth of your pain today is equal to the height your joy can remind you of the joy and love that was yours, even though the loss is so great. Gratitude and grief often comingle.
3. Go to a support group in your place of worship, hospital, counseling center or mental health clinic. Also, more and more churches are recognizing that not all of their congregation is in the mood for Advent excitement and Christmas celebrations, and have a Blue Christmas service that can be very healing and supportive.
4. Get outside on a sunny day. Walk, bike, swim (if you’re fortunate enough to live where it’s warm) and let the sun shine on you. Exercise, especially in nature, is a proven antidote to depression and the vitamin D from the sun is also good for your mood.
5. Meditate. This is different from praying, which typically involves talking to God/Allah/Spirit. Praying is a great thing to do (I highly recommend it) but meditating is even better for depression. It is a discipline of quieting the mind, body and soul and being a listener of the silence, that in my opinion is truly the voice of God. Meditation is a proven therapy for anxiety, depression, PTSD and other mental and emotional issues. Download the app Simply Being, Calm or Headspace or other meditation apps and start to connect with a deep peace.
6. Volunteer. There’s something magical about doing something good for someone else when all you want to do is sit at home and cry. I’m not sure how it works – must be some kind of spiritual wiring God put in us to give us beauty for ashes, and joy for mourning (Isaiah 61:3)
If you find yourself unable to function and too deep in despair to even consider any of these options, please reach out to your clergy, counselor, doctor or call 911. You are not alone, and this, too shall pass. In the dark of winter it is hard to imagine the tender blooms of spring, but they will come and you will bloom again, too.
To schedule a counseling appointment, call 847-382-HOPE (4673) extension 316