'Tis The Season To Be... Sad?
It’s a time of joy, merriment, and festive gatherings. A time to catch up with relatives and friends we may not have the chance to see often during the year. A warm glow fills our hearts and nourishes our souls. It truly is the most wonderful time of the year….
Sounds perfect, doesn’t it? The reality is that for many people the holidays are anything but merry. Now I’m not trying to bring you down. This is a positive place and our goal is to find joy in every day. But the truth is that a great number of individuals suffer from depression during the holidays, and for a wide variety of reasons. So I want to take a moment to acknowledge this fact and also provide some information that might help someone you know, or help you, get through this tough time of year.
The first thing I want to say is that it's important that you acknowledge what you are feeling. Also, understand that what you are feeling is real. It is not imagined, it is not "silly" or "ridiculous". It is real and it is not at all trivial. If you should find yourself giving in to the stress of trying to pull off the perfect holiday for your family, or you are feeling down because you are single, or are lonely because your loved ones are far away or have passed on, know that you are not alone. Know, too, that there are ways to cope with these feelings. Mayo Clinic offers some great advice which includes setting realistic goals for yourself when it comes to hosting the holidays at your home, or attending social gatherings. I'll provide the link to that and other information at the end of this post.
But I want to focus on the sadness that people face when they are alone at the holidays. It’s something I think about all the time when I gather with my family and I am sure I am not the only one who does. There are many people who are alone because they are unable to travel long-distance to see family or they may be elderly and have no surviving relatives or friends. If you know someone that falls into this category, make an effort to reach out to them during the holidays to check-in and ask how they are doing. Perhaps stop by and pay them a visit. Or invite them to your house for a visit. Send a Christmas card, an e-mail, or my personal favorite – call them on the phone. Connecting with people does wonders to lift a person’s mood and if they have limited contact with people to begin with, your card or call will be especially welcome.
If you are one of the millions of people who suffer from loneliness and depression at the holidays, take heart. According to Robert Leahy, Ph.D. Director of the American Institute for Cognitive Therapy in New York City, "you may feel alone, but you are not. Forty-five percent of the adult population (104 million people) is single. Twenty-seven percent of households are a person living alone." A study conducted in the UK in 2014 found that 25,000 elderly people were alone at Christmas. While the statistics might make us feel a little better knowing that others share our sadness, they do little in the way of providing actual benefit to our well-being. It’s also very hard to turn off the negative thoughts when you have all day to focus on them because you aren’t attending all the parties and gatherings. But there is something to be said for keeping busy. Because keeping busy takes our focus off of those repetitive negative thoughts, even for a little while.
Filling up time with activities that are joyful in nature may seem nearly impossible for a person who finds no joy in the holidays, I get it. But it is possible. The bonus is that it is also good for your health. One of the best ways to keep busy in a way that is productive and meaningful is to volunteer. In fact, volunteering has been shown to have positive health benefits on those who give and devote their time to helping others. Studies have shown that volunteering and giving in general improves our mental and physical well-being. A recent study conducted by the Corporation for National and Community Services in Washington, DC found that “volunteer activities can strengthen the social ties that protect individuals from isolation during difficult times, while the experience of helping others leads to a sense of greater self-worth and trust.” There are many benefits which are detailed in the study, which I have provided a link for below in addition to another conducted in 2006 by the National Institutes of Health. This fascinating research studied MRIs of subjects and found that giving released endorphins which in turn had a positive effect on the feelings of those who gave. Volunteering has been shown to decrease stress levels and help with depression, as evidenced in the findings of the two studies mentioned here.
Ready to give it a try? There are a number of opportunities to make a difference in your community. Here are a few suggestions:
Your local soup kitchen could use help serving meals on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.
There are many families who are in need of help and could use some holiday cheer. Reaching out to your local Social Services office or Salvation Army is a great way to obtain the name of a family in need. Many run “Adopt a Family” programs for the holidays.
Your local place of worship may need volunteers for various holiday drives and services
Nursing homes are always in need of volunteers. Look into events that are taking place during the holidays or on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. For many seniors, this may be the only time they receive visitors.
Meals on Wheels and other food rescue organizations like America’s Second Harvest can provide you with information on volunteering, or which organizations may need help delivering meals to home bound individuals.
Many military families could use holiday cheer. Children of deployed men and women serving overseas are missing their mothers and fathers. Organizations like Operation Gratitude can provide you with information on how you can bring some holiday joy to military families this season.
Veterans in hospitals or residences could benefit from a visit or some help. Reach out to your local VA or other non-profit veteran’s organizations to inquire about volunteer opportunities.
The most important thing to remember is that there is always help if you need it, and an opportunity to help others in need. Click on the links below for more information on coping with the holiday blues and how volunteering can bring you and those you help joy. Of course, if you feel that your depression is overwhelming please seek help. There are professionals available 24/7 to assist you. This link will provide you with important numbers to call:
Here are the links to the two studies I referenced:
Wishing you all a happy and healthy holiday season!