For most of us, the holidays are a time of joy and celebration, stretching from Thanksgiving through Christmas and the New Year. But for some, it can be the most difficult time of year. We may feel the keen absence of a loved-one, the anxiety of measuring up, the pressure of trying to please those we love with gifts we cannot afford. We are constantly bombarded with images of perfect families and happy faces exchanging perfect gifts. All of this can lead to “holiday depression.”
Depression is widespread. For most of us it is temporary and seldom. For some, it is a lifelong and constant companion. It affects the rich and poor, the unknown and the famous. Abraham Lincoln was well known for his bouts with depression. His law partner, William Herndon observed, “His melancholy dripped from him as he walked.”
According to Mayo Clinic, “Depression is a medical illness that causes a persistent feeling of sadness and loss of interest.” We all know it when we feel it: the heavy weight that seems to bear down upon us, sapping our energy, dragging us down, emotional shackles that reduce our steps to a shuffle, the thief that robs us of creativity and destroys our dreams.
Here are a few proven steps to combat depression, some from Lincoln himself:
Refuse to surrender to depression’s emotions. Lincoln learned this discipline and encouraged others to follow it. In 1842, he wrote, “Remember in the depth and even the agony of despondency, that very shortly you are to feel well again.” In his famous letter to Fanny McCollough, he said, “You can not now realize that you will ever feel better. Is not this so? And yet it is a mistake. You are sure to be happy again. To know this, which is certainly true, will make you some less miserable now. I have had experience enough to know what I say.” Get up, and get out. Exercise, walk, run, play. Exercise of the body somehow releases a wind within that can blow away the dark clouds that close in on us.
Get with people. Loneliness is depression’s partner. When I was a teenager I read a little known book by a Christian psychiatrist named Henry C. Link entitled Return to Religion. Basically the book said that church is good for the human psyche. Going to church is good for us.
Do something good for someone else. Guilt and depression are common companions. The acts that make us feel guilty often become the seeds of depression. Acts of altruism will punch holes in the darkness and let in the liberating light. Accept God’s forgiveness for your sins, and then go out of your way to do something for others.
If the depression persists, seek professional medical assistance. We are complex creatures with a complex chemical balance that affects our moods. Proper medication, administered under the careful supervision of a doctor, can help. Speaking of his own depression, Lincoln said, “Melancholy is a misfortune. It is not a fault.”
Trust in God who cares for you. Look beyond and beneath all the holiday hype to remember the basic message of Christmas. God has loved you so much that He has given His only begotten Son, just for you. God loves you just as you are. He is reaching out His hand to lift you up and save you!