by Michael Bellamy
It may be that the garishly decorated tree, the lights that make the tinsel glisten or Noddy Holder piercing the air with ‘IIIIIItttttsss Chriiiiiisssstttmaaaaas!’ fills you with warm, comforting memories, making this season all the more joyful. But as joyous as Christmas is for many, for some, it can trigger sadness and low mood.
Christmas can be a depressing time of year. Being unable to afford the presents you feel your loved ones deserve or worrying about the aftermath of overspending can certainly dampen our festive cheer. Seasonal business decline can leave people out of work in the run up to Christmas. Ray Williams notes that ‘Christmas appears to be a trigger to engage in excessive self-reflection and rumination about the inadequacies of life (and a “victim” mentality) in comparison with other people who seem to have more and do more’. We make the best of it but have to admit it can be a struggle for many reasons.
We live in a culture that repeatedly tells us having more will make us happier, whether its the latest electronic appliance, a new car or a larger house. Pretty soon we place the measure of our self-worth on comparison with others. When we do this we inevitably weigh ourselves on the scales and find ourselves wanting. The antidote to these problems is to develop our sense of contentment and gratitude. There is a lot of research to support the proposition that being more thankful about things is good for our health and their are a number of popular articles you can read on this topic (for an example click here). In the Bible, Paul the apostle speaks of living in contentment whether he was well off or poor. He found that regardless of his circumstances, Jesus made him who he is and with Jesus he could handle anything.
Isn’t it interesting that empirical research, concludes that being thankful is good for us and that’s exactly what we learn in the Bible! 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 says being thankful regardless of our circumstances is God’s will for all who belong to Jesus (cf. Colossians 3:17).
So making a conscious decision to be aware of the things we have to be thankful for is a way of alleviating the frustrating and depressing habit we humans have developed of comparing our ‘have nots’ with the ‘haves’ of others. It can be hard for us when our children want the latest popular products for Christmas and we can’t afford them. But it’s wise to make a budget for our Christmas spending and stick to it.
Think of it this way, what is the most valuable gift you can give your children? This may sound sentimental but knowing they are loved, valued and valuable is of immeasurable and lifelong worth to them. No material gift, however expensive or fashionable is a substitute for it. In our busy world of trying to earn more to gain more, taking the time to spend with our children, lavishing them with affection and attention, will give them far more lasting memories of childhood and parenthood than a toy they play with for a fortnight that spends the remainder of its life gathering dust on a shelf.
Christmas can be a time to focus on things far more valuable and personally satisfying. How about volunteering to do something to help others over Christmas? Why not get in touch with your local volunteer centre and see what opportunities are available? In general, being more active in doing things you find rewarding is a good way of helping to manage low mood. You don’t need to be too ambitious, little things can make a difference and increasing activity increases motivation.
While we are on the subject, what could be more valuable and satisfying than giving time to worship and praise God, being thankful for all we have and all we are in Jesus. Join in the celebrations at your local church or take time alone reflect on the One who gives the season its true meaning.
So here’s wishing you a very VERY happy Christmas!
Ray Williams, Why people become depressed at Christmas, https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/wired-success/201111/why-people-become-depressed-christmas
Alexandra Sifferlin, Why being thankful is good for you, http://time.com/4124288/thanksgiving-day-2015-thankful-gratitude/
If you are experiencing low mood or more frequent or prolonged distressing experiences contact your GP or an appropriate health professional. If in doubt, or you are concerned about your physical or emotional health in any way call your GP. In the UK you can call NHS 111 for advice. If you find yourself in crisis or are suicidal you may dial the 999 emergency number in the UK (or appropriate emergency number where you are). You can call Samaritans 24 hours a day.