Wednesday, November 30, 2016

The ABC's of Coping with Christmas Anxiety and Depression (Written 12/2014)

How are you feeling this Christmas season?  Many of us excitedly anticipate the hustle and bustle of activity and people that come with the season.
But for others, the season brings unwanted visitors:  anxiety and depression.  
Shopping for presents, attending festive parties, and visiting with friends and relatives can often fuel our sadness and stress.  Perhaps you are feeling grief and sorrow over the loss of someone dear to you or over painful memories that are triggered this time of year.  Maybe you are feeling the pressure of financial burdens or the strain of excessive responsibilities and activities.  There are many reasons that you may feel the holiday blues.  But know this - You are not alone.
To help you cope, here are some simple ABCs to help you manage the difficulties of the season.
Acknowledge Your Feelings
What exactly are you feeling?  Are you feeling the heaviness of grief….the loneliness of isolation…the fretfulness of anxiety?  What is triggering the feeling? Explore your mood and accept its presence.  Express your feelings by writing about your memories of lost loved ones, by sitting with a friend and crying, by talking through the root of your anxiety with a trusted confidant/counselor, by crying out to God in the midst of your emotional struggle, etc.  Acknowledging your feelings to yourself, to others, and to God is an important step in coping with difficult emotions.
Ps 139:23 Search me, O God, and know my heart: Try me, and know my thoughts;
Be Realistic
Visions of perfect holidays shown on television and in movies often set us up for unrealistic expectations.  Media portrayals of scrumptious meals, expertly wrapped presents, and loving families dressed in coordinating outfits lead us to believe that our Christmas celebrations must match these images.  But hear this -- Holidays do not have to be perfect.  Be realistic.  If your finances are tight, set a practical budget and stick to it.  If your calendar is overbooked, choose to attend the activities that are most important to you and consider skipping the rest.  If someone you love won’t be with you this year, expect to miss them and know that this Christmas will be different.  If ongoing conflict exists between family members, acknowledge the differences and recognize that family time may feel strained this year.
Giving thought to your approach to Christmas will help combat the unrealistic expectations of the season.  Prov 14:8 The wisdom of the prudent is to give thought to their ways, but the folly of fools is deception.
Connect with Others
For many in our midst, Christmas is the loneliest season of the year.  Some are feeling alone because of the death of a loved one, some are living far from family, some are experiencing an empty nest, others are feeling isolated because of mental illness (their own or a loved one’s).  Christmas loneliness amplifies our desire to live as God intended – in relational community.  If you are grieving a loss or if you are isolating yourself because of a struggle, take a risk and reach out to a trusted friend so they may share the journey with you.  Maybe you are alone because family is far away, because of a recent breakup, or because of social apprehension.  If so, make a daring choice to attend a church or other social event where you may find support and companionship.
Connecting with others is essential to coping with sadness and stress.  By loving and being loved by others, we display the depth of God’s love for us.  John 15:12 My commandment is this—to love one another just as I have loved you.
Develop Self-Care Practices
Saying “yes” to every event and request will leave you exhausted.  It is also a sure way to increase stress and sadness.  Developing self-care is a necessary practice to reduce anxiety and depression, but it is essential during the Christmas season.  Setting aside time for self-care will restore you emotionally, physically and spiritually. Simple self-care strategies include eating healthy, getting enough sleep and exercising regularly.  Additionally, you should engage in activities that reduce stress, clear your head, and restore your soul.  Read a good book.  Soak in a warm bath.  Take a leisurely stroll (or a brisk one if it’s cold!).  Snuggle with your kids.  Whatever relaxes you, make the time to do it.
Developing self-care practices can reduce some of your stress and sadness and restore a bit of your capacity to engage in Christmas activities. 1 Cor 3:16  Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God dwells in you?
Enjoy the Christmas Story
Do you wonder what Mary and Joseph felt in the days leading up to Jesus’ birth? Were they experiencing anxiety as the made their trek to Bethlehem?  Did they feel the weight of joy and of sorrow as they anticipated Jesus’ life and destiny?  Were they consumed with the difficult circumstances before them?  Or …were they able to see the extravagance of God’s love -- that Jesus would step out of heaven in order to enter our world so that we may know His father.  Did they know God’s grander story in the midst of their own story?
The hardness of life is evident among us – and for many, life circumstances may not get better anytime soon.  In the midst of our struggles, are we able to see God’s grander story?  It may be helpful to take some time to read or listen to the account of Jesus’ arrival. Quiet yourself before the Lord.  Imagine the scene.  Hear the voices.  Feel the weight of emotion.   Ponder God’s goodness.  Enjoy the Christmas story.  Luke 2:11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.
I hope that these ABC’s are helpful to you.  If your sadness and stress are overwhelming to you this Christmas season, please reach out to a friend or to a counselor and let them help you through the struggle.

May you know the joy of Emmanuel (God with us) this season.
Peace to you,

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