For many, the holiday season is a joyous time, but for some folks it can be a rough season to get through.
If you Google “holiday depression” or better still “beating holiday depression,” you’ll find lots of top 10 lists. Below is my own top 5 list.
1. Be grateful. Research at Harvard, and at major universities in Florida, Texas and California, has proven the mental, emotional and even physical benefits of taking some time each day to be grateful. Keep a gratitude journal. Write a thank-you note. Thank someone mentally. It’s a great way to protect your natural joy.
A hymn I’ve come to love suggests a lovely metaphor about gratitude as a protective power: “A grateful heart a fortress is, a staunch and rugged tower, where God’s omnipotence revealed girds man with mighty power.”
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Spiritual healer and author, Mary Baker Eddy, writing about gratitude in Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, suggested gratitude as an activity: “Gratitude is much more than a verbal expression of thanks. Action expresses more gratitude than speech.”
2. Serve. Choose one of the many service opportunities most communities offer. Volunteer at your church. Ring a Salvation Army bell. Volunteer at a hospital. Be a story reader at your local library or elementary school. Serving others gives you a sense of joy. In fact, research from the University of California Berkeley suggests that serving others improves physical health and longevity as it decreases stress.
3. Be still. If you search online, you’ll find that one of the chief causes of holiday depression is a lack of stillness. Silent nights are hard to find. You can be purposeful about finding stillness. Find a quiet spot and make time (even just 5-10 minutes) each day to just be quiet. Americans are a prayerful people; 55 percent pray daily. Taking time to pray for peace and harmony in your home, neighborhood and world has a powerful individual and collective effect.
4. Simplify. As shopping, food preparation and travel intensify, things can get tangled up. You can take control. Simplify your menus. A calm host/hostess is a better gift than an elaborate meal. Some families simplify gift giving by assigning each family member another for whom to buy one gift—under $20. Simple.
5. Reach out. Although it may have different causes, holiday depression has a common cure: unselfishness. Look out instead of in. This can seem devilishly hard to do. But thinking of what other people need instead of what we lack is a joy creator, while thinking mostly of our own needs promotes depression. Again, you can be purposeful here. Make a list of people you’ve been out of touch with and send them a holiday greeting. Think of those in your community who are needier than you. Our church discovered that one in six children from a local elementary school were from homeless families. We contacted the school and agreed to have our Sunday School students provide homeless children with backpacks containing school supplies at the beginning of the year and snack packs during the rest of the year. It’s pretty hard to feel sad when you’re packing snack bags for homeless children.
Challenging rather than accepting holiday depression is a healthy choice. Find your own ways to keep the season joyful. Share them with friends. Look outward and upward. This is natural, and it’s effective.
Bob Clark is a Christian Science practitioner. Read his blog at simplyhealthyflorida.com.