Holidays got you down? Are you stressed about gifts and parties, and financial and social obligations to the point where you just wish you could skip the holidays altogether? Even worse, does the holiday season make you feel depressed?
If so, you're not alone, but you might want to take a cue from Ebenezer Scrooge. After he had a change of heart, that is. Ah, but old Scrooge had wealth. Of course having financial means gives you the opportunity to do great good, but it doesn't have to be about material goods or money. You can give the gift of yourself - your time and attention and companionship. And it just may boost your own sagging spirit.
WHY DO HOLIDAYS TRIGGER DEPRESSION?
The time period between Halloween and New Year's Day is sprinkled with holidays, parties, and all manner of excitement. Despite our desire to celebrate the season as a time of good will toward others and focus on family, life doesn't always live up to the hype - and that can cause the holiday blues or make symptoms of depression worsen.
Perhaps you've lost a loved one this year, or you don't have family, or are separated from them. In a year that included devastating natural disasters, war, and economic upheaval around the globe, the sometimes unrealistic expectations of the season may increase feelings of sadness and despair.
"THE BEST WAY TO FIND YOURSELF IS TO LOSE YOURSELF IN THE SERVICE OF OTHERS." -- MAHATMA GANDHI
However dire your circumstances, somebody else has it just as bad or worse. Can the spirit of giving ease your own pain? Is it possible to turn negative energy into positive energy by helping those in need?
Helping others during the holiday season can be an excellent way to battle the holiday blues, according to Beverly Hills Psychotherapist, Barbara Neitlich.
"Often referred to as "the Scrooge effect" after the ever popular Dickens character whose mood improved after giving, scientists have uncovered a link between altruism and increased physical and mental health. We are social creatures and in turn your brain will often reward you with pleasurable feelings upon the completion of doing something kind for someone else.
"AN IMPORTANT DISTINCTION TO REMEMBER IS THAT HOLIDAY DEPRESSION CAN BE LIFTED, BUT NOT CLINICAL DEPRESSION."
If you continue to feel sad, tired, irritable, hopeless, helpless, anxious, have difficulty concentrating, engage in overeating, experience appetite loss, or are having suicidal thoughts, you should seek professional help, cautions Neitlich.
There are many first-hand accounts of people pulling themselves out of the holiday doldrums by embodying the spirit of giving. After losing her father and witnessing her mother suffer with Alzheimer's disease, Kimberly Anderson lost interest in the holidays.
"I truly thought I would never regain any passion or see any purpose for the season ever again. In years past it was about how many gifts I could buy...it was about getting to parties on time and worrying about what to wear.
"I needed to give back, I needed to reach out. And in doing so I found healing, hope, and finally a sense of purpose for my holiday season. I am thankful for The Salvation Army and Little Brothers Friends of The Elderly. From ringing the bell week after week for The Salvation Army to delivering warm meals to the elderly on Thanksgiving and Christmas (and throughout the year), I finally found the true meaning of Thanksgiving and Christmas...I was, for the first time, looking outside of myself and my family to see that there were others who were in need. Some were in need of hope; others compassion, family, and companionship.
"I SOON REALIZED THAT I WAS LOOKING IN THE MIRROR - AND RECOGNIZED THAT THESE PEOPLE IN NEED WERE GIVING MORE TO ME THAN I COULD EVER GIVE THEM," SAYS KIMBERLY.
Linda Cohen was also changed by her decision to serve others, and wrote about it in her book, 1,000 Mitzvahs: How Small Acts of Kindness Can Heal, Inspire, and Change Your Life.
"When I experienced grief after the loss of my father, I spent time finding meaningful opportunities to give," she tells Natural Choice Directory. "Whenever I was involved in an action that involved food - like delivering meals or collecting cans for a food bank - it helped bring back good memories of times spent with my father cooking, canning, or beautifully presenting a meal.
"AFTER SEVERAL MONTHS OF DOING THIS AND ACTIVELY LOOKING FOR OPPORTUNITIES TO BE IN SERVICE AND HELP GIVE, I FELT MORE PEACEFUL AND THE INITIAL GRIEF SLOWLY SUBSIDED."
Kimberly and Linda believe the act of giving helped them ease their own burdens. So what can you do?
Volunteer your time for a charitable cause like a homeless shelter or food bank. If you're not sure this is for you, start with a very small block of time and see where it leads.
Offer to run errands or do chores for a homebound person.
Reach out to others who may be alone or lonely during the holidays.
If you're short on ideas but want to help, call your local house of worship or community organizations that will gladly point you in the right direction.
It was easy to pass judgment on the pre-Christmas Scrooge. But when we became privy to his earlier life circumstances, we saw that he came to occupy his narrow world because he gave in to pain and loneliness, holding it tightly to avoid feeling anything at all.
The true spirit of the holidays became clear only when he looked outside of himself to see other people as they really were, and tried to lend a hand. In helping others, he also helped himself.
Give. Give your time. Give your attention. Give yourself. Give for the sake of giving, understanding that there are no guarantees at all about how you'll feel about it later. It just may be the tonic you seek.
Sources: Barbara Neitlich, LCSW, Psychotherapist ; Kimberly Anderson, Host, Kim's Closet; Linda Cohen, author of 1,000 Mitzvahs: How Small Acts of Kindness Can Heal, Inspire, and Change Your Life
Find out more about related services in the Washington area:
Depression Treatment; Support Groups; Family Counseling
Seattle Area Nonprofit & Charity Groups
Ann Pietrangelo is the author of "No More Secs! Living, Laughing & Loving Despite Multiple Sclerosis." She is a member of the American Society of Journalists and Authors and writes for sites around the web.