Tuesday, December 15, 2009

It's the most wonderful time of the year

That's what the familiar Christmas song says, but is it?

Being the pessimistic sort of people we are, we have the idea that Christmas isn't such a wonderful time, that suicide rates go up at Christmas, and so on. A quick Google search, however, comes up with the following:

“Contrary to what many believe, the notion of increased depression during the Christmas season is a myth. Suicide rates actually decrease over the Holidays." (source)

“Although the papers presented show a mix of suicide and parasuicide statistics it is apparent that there is a general trend for such events to reduce in December and in particular around the days preceding Christmas day.” (source)

“It is important to note, however, that while suicide rates do not increase over the holiday season, depression rates do.” (source)

But, these reports and statistics don't help much if YOU are feeling down. It doesn't help much to tell yourself that you should be less inclined to feel bad, statistically. In fact, the stress of thinking you should be feeling better may well make you feel even worse.

So, if you are feeling 'blue' this Christmas, what should you do?

The Canadian Mental Health Association suggests:
“Loneliness, depression, feelings of loss, financial burdens, family conflicts, and alcohol abuse can intensify during the holidays.
“Here are the experts tips for coping!
-Plan ahead. Take time to identify your feelings about Christmas.
-Be realistic, look at what you can afford to give.
-Choose to celebrate with the people who make you feel positive and hopeful.
-Let go of your expectations & make time for what is important to you!”

Depending on your circumstances, some of these might work fairly well, but some may be beyond your control. For example, for a guy living on the street, separated from his family by distance, money and/or apathy, even points 2 and 3 are pretty much impossible. But all four points deserve consideration.

Plan ahead. Take time to identify your feelings about Christmas.
By all means, realize that you will be bombarded with particularly strong emotions at Christmas. If you have seen a pattern emerge in previous years, don't let it sneak up unannounced this year. If you figured out some coping strategies in previous years, bring them out early and put them in place before the dismalness sets in. As best as you can, analyze your feelings and see what is particularly noxious. Is it the absence of family? The loss of a family member (by death, divorce, or distance?) Is it unrealistic expectations of 'Peace on earth', love, joy, and all of the other 'warm fuzzies' in the Christmas songs you are bombarded with? Is it the stress of buying gifts, and then having to pay for them?
Once you know the specific things that hit you hardest, look for a way to bypass the negative, and replace with something positive (even if it is small). Missing your family? Fins someone else in the same boat, and do something special together. It doesn't have to be Christmas dinner, but maybe an opportunity to share a seasonal activity—skating, Christmas caroling, watching a movie, checking out the Christmas lights.

Be realistic, look at what you can afford to give.

If money is a big issue (and it probably is for most us), persuade yourself that you don't have to keep up with the Joneses. Or even your siblings or fellow employees. Think of something that particularly reflects your own nature and passions, and turn that into a gift. It might be baking or a creative craft. It might be a gift of snow shoveling or your undivided attention over a cup of coffee.
Perhaps you would much rather donate to a worthwhile cause in the name of the family members that you know really don't need anything. Shop at a used book store instead of Chapters. Don't knock yourself down because you can't spend the money you wish you could. There truly is no value in going into debt just to make the rest of the family think you can afford to spend hundreds or thousands of $$ on them. And it's not only people with limited incomes that are choosing to cut back their spending on gifts. Many people are re-thinking the whole consumer-centric version of Christmas, and choosing to celebrate in simpler, more personal ways. Advent Conspiracy

Choose to celebrate with the people who make you feel positive and hopeful.
This might mean you will have a very small celebration. You might be better off alone than with a group of people that tend to bring you down—and that might even include family. Again, perhaps you can find another person who needs the same kind of simple, unassuming, time together.

Let go of your expectations & make time for what is important to you!
Your celebration doesn't have to be anything that you don't want it to be. Don't want to be in a crowd of people? Then don't. Don't want to have to decorate, or bake, or get dressed up? Then don't! Do you like a nice hot cider and some conversation? Then that's what it should be. Want to watch a movie and have some popcorn? Then make that your Christmas celebration. Remembering past traditions is nice, but it is easy to expect that DOING the familiar thing will automatically bring the same warm feelings that you remember for times gone past. That isn't necessarily the case. Don't do something just to try to make yourself feel warm and tingly. Choose to do something just because you enjoy doing it, and as much as possible, choose to do it with the people you want to be with.

Let Christmas be an opportunity to be reminded of things like love, relationships, good friends. It might include reviving an old tradition, or perhaps starting a new one.

Read a familiar story—Luke 2 is certainly appropriate!
Or perhaps Dr. Suess
or Clement Moore
or Charles Dickens
or O. Henry (William Sydney Porter).

Join with a few other people and go caroling.

Find a special church service. Sneak in to the back row, and just sit and absorb. Sing if you want (or not). Pray if you want (or not). Talk to other people if you want (or not). But let the peaceful presence of the spirit of Jesus invade you.

Choose a charity endeavor, and help make Christmas special for someone else. (And don't forget about either the charity or the people they serve the rest of the year. Lots of people get involved just before Christmas, but the need usually continues all year.)

There is something special that happens inside you when you do something for someone else. You can call it the Spirit of Christmas, or get a bit more spiritual and recognize it as the Spirit of Jesus.
Either way, it is love. Plain and simple. Not necessarily easy, but not complicated. Give away something that means something to you. It doesn't have to involve money, or things. It might go deeper and involve a gift of your time, your energy, your heart.

You will probably discover, as many have before you: 'It is more blessed to give than to receive'. Or, as The Message puts it: 'You're far happier giving than getting. (Acts 20:35).

If you are facing the struggle of getting through another Christmas season intact, if you DON'T think Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year, then step back a bit, choose to make it a bit better for someone else, and I'll bet yours will be a bit better too.

Don't demand that you feel all warm and fuzzy inside for every minute between now and Christmas Day. Choose to be content with an opportunity or two to bring a smile to someone's face. Wish someone a 'Merry Christmas'. Remember that we can have Peace on Earth—but it's going to take all of us working together.

To all my friends and enemies near and far,
May your Christmas have special moments of joy, and remember that there are more people that love you than you know!


ron cole said...

Lots of great advice there Al. It's always been a tough season for me living in an extremely dysfunctional family, alcoholic parents...the abuse always seemed to escalate at christmas. So alot of wounds, pain in the memories. So much unresolved, and never will really. I've seen pyschologists, and therapists, they've said as much. It's a season in my life that I do really try and focus on Jesus, and rest that he is in the midst of it all...whether I see, or feel it. I rest in that truth. And I've invited my parents to join us this year, it's been quite awhile...so that adds to the anxiety.

Luke said...

many UCC pastors and churches here are having "Blue Christmas" services which i think is really cool and healing.


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