by Daron Dickens
I’ve always struggled a little when the sun goes down earlier, the temperature gets colder and the sky gets gray. Because I’m aware of this, I expect my mood to be down slightly. But one crisp October day I found my mood nosedive for no apparent reason. Over time, I was able to connect my plummeting mood with the day my mom died. It’s interesting that although I was not thinking about my mom directly, that it had been years since she died, and that things were going well for me at the time, my brain still knew that there was a reason to feel sad. I’ve discovered over the years that this is quite common with people who’ve lost someone close to them. I think it is particularly difficult during this time of year because of the contrast of the emotion with the expectation of being happy and connecting with family and friends during the holiday season. This can also be a very busy, stressful time of year with all the preparation that comes with the holidays.
Whether it’s remembering the loss of a loved one, feeling down when the sky is gray and the days are short, or just feeling lonely, many experience depression around the holidays. Although nothing can directly take it a way (and counseling may be the best option for you), here are some tips to help minimize the depression you may be feeling during the season.
Do something to honor the person who has passed.
Often long after you have mourned there can be a figurative crater that’s present where the loved one used to reside. During a time filled with memories of this person, it can shine an all too bright light on their absence. Doing something to honor them can bring their presence into the holidays even if they can’t be here in person. It allows you to celebrate who they were as well as your memories of them now. Most of all, it allows you to move on without leaving them behind.
Make yourself get up and get ready first thing in the morning.
When the weather gets cold, it’s easy to slide into bed under a mountain of blankets and hibernate like a bear. It can be very difficult to get out of that bed in the morning. If you’re one who suffers from depression that’s debilitating, it’s very important that you make yourself get up, take a shower and get ready first thing in the morning. It will act as a positive reinforcement when you look in the mirror and see your made-up self rather than the just-rolled-out of bed image. It will also give you freedom to be able to do other things. Newton’s first law of motion says objects at rest tend to stay at rest and objects in motion tend to stay in motion. This is certainly true as we start the day.
Create new traditions.
No other time of the year is so steeped in tradition. Traditions give us a sense of connection with the past as we celebrate them in the present. They ground us in the things we value and hold near to our hearts. They act as stabilizing elements for a healthy brain. Often, traditions are handed down to us, but they started somewhere. Creating a new tradition that is both meaningful and can be celebrated each year forward can bring purpose to an otherwise difficult time.
Put a spin on old traditions.
I love the holidays. Growing up, we used to get dressed in what we called our church clothes, go to North Park Mall, do our Christmas shopping, take a picture with Santa, go to a movie, then top it off with a fun meal at Big Boy. I looked forward to it every year. My entire family lives in the Dallas area, so when I moved to Atlanta many years ago I didn’t have anyone nearby. That first holiday season was very difficult. To my surprise, I found a group of friends who were in similar situations as I. We decided to have our own “Family Christmas” mirroring the tradition I have done so many years as a child. It became something that we all cherished every single year without exception.
Put yourself in and around community or at least other people.
Depression feeds on isolation. Sometimes just being around people can give you a sense of community even if you don’t know the people around you. Taking a walk around the mall or going to Starbucks to do your work can put you in a more connected and hopeful state of mind rather than being cooped up at home or at the office.
Try to get exercise or at least get your body moving.
Again, we can look back on Newton’s first law, but this is also a matter of the natural chemicals that your body releases when you’re moving. These can be a natural way to fight the chemical effects of depression.
Try to eat vegetables and fruits.
Part of the double whammy of the holidays is all the incredible comfort foods that go along with it. Although you need to be able to indulge a little, be careful that this doesn’t become just one more thing weighing you down during a time that’s already difficult for you. Eating fruits and veggies will help you to feel better, give you more energy and help you have a better perspective of things around you.
Daron Dickens serves as a marriage and family therapist in Clarksville, Tennessee, where he lives with his wife, Margaret, and his two kids, Truman and Carter. He also served as a pastor for over 20 years. He loves reading, all things baseball and the heavenly blessing of coffee.