Before heading home from a family gathering, you take a drive with your husband and kids to look at Christmas lights. Everything’s going fine. Suddenly, however, you are flooded with intense feelings of sadness that catch you off-guard. You stare out your window (supposedly engrossed by the beautiful views) and hope that no one notices the flood of tears coming down your cheeks.
It’s New Year’s Eve. The kids are in bed, and it’ll be a low-key night for you and your spouse. Snacks from the leftovers in the fridge, maybe a glass of wine, and fireworks on the TV – if you can stay up late enough to catch them. But for some reason, you’re having a hard time keeping yourself together. Every 20 minutes or so, you nonchalantly retreat to the bedroom. There you lay on the bed, cry quietly until it’s out of your system, and return to the living room…hoping your spouse doesn’t see the red rims around your eyes.
Either of these scenarios sound familiar? They do to me, because they are personal examples!
Many people feel sad, or depressed, during the winter months. The holidays may be an especially challenging time. The impression I get from what I read and hear on the topic, however, is that people who have recently lost a family member or undergone a traumatic event, or who are clinically diagnosed with depression, are most prone to struggling.
I’m sure that’s true. However, I don’t really fit any of those categories – and yet, I struggle. Maybe you, like me, have a pretty good life. And yet, Christmas rolls around, and it’s just hard. Overwhelming emotions blindside you. Or your energy is totally zapped, and you can hardly accomplish a thing. There may be many reasons for this, as every person and situation is unique. However, I have compiled a list of 5 possible causes, and suggestions of how to cope. Perhaps you will be able to identify with some of these ideas. (I will address the first 2 points today, and will share the remaining 3 next Friday.)
1. Buried or hidden memories and feelings are brought to the surface.
The holidays are a naturally reflective time. Another year is ending, and we may find ourselves re-living strong emotions, or dwelling on memories of past events. To top it off, we are surrounded by music, movies, and messages that are designed to tap into tender feelings. Music, in particular, is proven to be strongly linked to memories. Christmas songs that you hear every year may carry you back to your past in a powerful way. This is sometimes uplifting, but it can also be painful.
As feelings or memories are elicited, it is usually healthier to deal with and process them directly, rather than dismiss or avoid them. My favorite way of doing this is through prayer. The Spirit of Jesus is always present to help me carry my emotional burdens; He has never failed me – not one single time.
Some people may find it helpful to talk things through with a trusted person or counsellor. Others may prefer to write it out in a journal, or express what they are feeling through some other creative medium.
And let us not underestimate the power of a good sense of humour, to balance all of the emotive, wistful stuff. Is there someone who can always make you laugh? Spend time with them (my husband is great for this). Or put away the tear-jerkers for a while, and watch a funny movie (“Christmas with the Kranks,” anyone?).
2. Holidays bring us into the presence of family members.
Family members bless us and give us a sense of belonging, so there may be joy in seeing them again. However, if you struggle with an unhealthy level of comparison, you may feel less satisfied with your life after seeing siblings or cousins who seem happier, better off, or more successful than you in some way.
Also, if your relationships with family members are not healthy, family gatherings can elicit negative feelings such as anger, sadness, or anxiety. If there is so much division that you do not see your family members anymore, Christmas is a time when you will likely be reminded of this fact.
There aren’t really any short-cuts to dealing with weighty issues such as these. However, on the topic of comparisons, gratitude and thankfulness – focusing on the things in your life that are going well and that you are thankful for – can be helpful. Remember that you, and your spouse and kids, are uniquely and wonderfully made. Your lives will not be the same as your siblings’ lives. And that is totally ok.
Even when you are going through struggles that the rest of your family doesn’t understand or appreciate, remember that God sees you. His purpose is to work good from the trial that you are experiencing.
Regarding difficult relationships, you may find it helpful to learn about healthy boundaries. Boundary issues may be at the root of a whole host of problems. Click here for my past post on relational boundaries, and a suggestion of a book to read on the topic.
Otherwise, if you can think of a kind, appropriate, reasonable gesture to extend to your family members, go ahead and do it. (Without the expectation of receiving anything in return.) A simple greeting card? A short phone call, email, or hand-written note? A small gift or helpful act? Try not to worry about the spirit in which they receive it – only the spirit in which it is given. If possible, spread your love in some small way, as difficult as the circumstances may be. Even if the person doesn’t receive it well, you will know that you are trying to do the right thing.
How about you? Do you experience difficult feelings during the holidays? What do you think is behind them? How do you cope? I would love to hear your ideas in the comments section below.
And I look forward to touching base again next Friday, when I will discuss 3 more possible causes for sadness at Christmas time.
Until then…Warm wishes!