Friday, November 21, 2008


By: Gayle Peterson
Question :
I am usually a very happy person, but every fall I start spiraling downward into a depression. I do the family "thing" with friends and my children, but my heart isn't in it. I don't seem to resurface again until mid January. I have heard about holiday depression, but I need to know why this happens and how I can avoid it this year.
Answer :
Barring seasonal affect disorder (related to lack of sunlight in the winter months), it is likely that you are experiencing sadness associated with what the holiday season represents to you. Since you resurface from your depression in mid-January, rather than springtime, it is less likely that you suffer from lack of sunlight than an emotional swing associated with hidden yearnings stimulated by the holidays themselves.
The holidays reconnect us with our childhood experience of family celebrations. Sadness may stem from ghosts of painful Christmas' past, or from a longing for family happiness that never materialized, or no longer exists because old family traditions have died or faltered. Particularly if your holidays have been marked by depression since the death of a parent, you may be experiencing grief that never quite makes it to the surface, but leaves you emotionally numb.
The holiday season triggers our desires and experiences of what it means to be "family." Lost dreams related to family life may be the source of your unhappiness. Pinpointing the emotional meaning for your predictable downward spiral could help you better understand your needs and create rituals that are meaningful instead of empty.
Finding the root cause of these seasonal blues will allow you to better take care of your needs during this vulnerable period. Approach this problem, using the suggestions below to understand the emotional meaning of this season and what you can do to prevent your downward spiral this year:
Family HistoryThe holidays bring up our yearnings for family closeness, past and present, imagined or real. Consider what Thanksgiving and Christmas were like in your household as a child. Was the atmosphere joyful or filled with uncomfortable tension? Are there unfulfilled childhood desires for emotional closeness with a parent who was remote, or has died, therefore ending any possibility of achieving intimacy with this important family member? In other words, are you yearning the Christmas you had and lost, or just never quite had?
Current FamilyWhat is your present experience of holiday celebration in your family? Do you recreate family traditions that you enjoy with your spouse, children, extended family and friends? Or do you "go through the motions," finding them more burdensome than joyful? Are you happy with your family relationships as they exist, or is there need for a change in your holiday ritual?
Be willing to consider your own needs this holiday season. Are you missing something in your present family relationships that the holidays highlight for you, such as more affection in your marriage or more involvement with your community or your children?
Addressing Your NeedsBe willing to keep a "holiday journal" this year. Write down feelings of despondency as they arise. Trace your associations so that you discover the key themes of your unhappiness at this time. If you are grieving a "Christmas" you never had, what kind of Christmas do you want to create in your family? Or if your Thanksgiving was not what you wanted, how can you create the kind of atmosphere you want? If the season accents the ways you feel "left out" rather than "included" in your family, what activities and people will help you build a sense of connection and belonging this year?
Creating Your Own MeaningAfter clarifying what saddens you, take time to express your grief. Mourn what cannot be realized, but do not stop there! Talk with friends, your spouse, a counselor or your church minister about ways to claim this season as your own.
Consider changing rituals that are empty to create the meaning you are lacking. If Christmas shopping is burdensome, consider simplifying gift giving this year. Replace stale tradition with new activities that lend some excitement. For example, you may choose to go on a family hike on Thanksgiving Day instead of watch football! Or join a Christmas caroling group in your community this Christmas.
It is time to find out what your own hidden fantasies are about this "magical" period! Sort out what you cannot have from what you can have. Allow yourself to connect with activities and people that make you feel alive and in touch with your feelings, including sadness. Embracing the "down" feelings will allow old grief to "thaw", making room for new, meaningful traditions to establish themselves in the years ahead


  1. Excellent advice. I'm just the opposite during the holidays. Can't hold me back. What an exciting time for me. Big hug. :)

  2. Great advice. This needs to be widely disseminated!

  3. Excellent advice! Some years I did exactly as you stated. Over the years there have been many changes from the family of birth to our own family to now being grandparents. There have also been significant losses, of precious people, of health, of finances, of friends moving and yet there are some wonderful gains, in-laws, babies, new friends. It is always our choice to have a good attitude.

    It's also good for us to be on the lookout for people who may need a helping hand, a listening ear, an encouraging word, a random act of kindness to help them over this difficult time. Showing other the love of Christ, whose birth we celebrate at this time of year, is what it is all about!


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