Depression is tough at the best of times. Perhaps it’s the best of times, such as holiday times, when depression at Christmastime is especially tough. The thought of mixing with happy people fills you with dread. The thought of remembering lost loved ones fills you with gloom. How can people be so happy when you are so sad? How can people celebrate when you are in mourning? It jars your soul and scrapes your tender wounds, doesn’t it?
You may want to run away and hide from the noisy busyness and the social obligations. Or you may want to lash out at the insensitive and uncaring people who exhort you to “Cheer up!” Or maybe you just want to drown your sorrows with binge drinking, binge eating, or binge TV-watching. But none of these options—running out, lashing out, or pigging out—will improve your depression. Indeed, they will only make it worse.
Let me propose a better way that will enable you to carefully navigate depression at Christmastime while also contributing to your long-term healing.
What to Do in the Midst of Depression at Christmastime
I know prayer is perhaps too obvious, but sometimes we miss the obvious. Bring your burden to the Lord, tell him your fears and dreads, and seek his help to push through these daunting days. Lament by saying “Lord, I don’t want to give thanks, I don’t want to celebrate Christmas, and I don’t want to live through another year.” Admit, saying: “God, I can’t stand happiness right now and I can’t abide people.” Confess: “This is wrong and sinful, but I can’t seem to change.” Plead: “Lord, I am weak, I need your power, I need your patience, I need your joy.” Promise: “I will rely on you alone to carry me and even use this time for my help and healing.”
It’s amazing how the gospel can turn the greatest pain into the greatest therapy.
Not everyone among your family and friends understands depression; but some do, as you know. Give them a call, or, better, meet with them, and talk to them about what you dread during this season. Ask them to pray for you and to support you in the coming days. Ask them to stay by your side in social settings, to protect you from those who don’t understand, to accept your silences, and to help you withdraw quietly when you have reached your limits of socializing.
While it’s not wise to totally withdraw from social life during the holidays, neither is it wise to force yourself to go to every social gathering. Total withdrawal will only depress you further; but so will total immersion. You just don’t have the emotional and mental fuel for it. So, plan ahead and choose wisely which social occasions you will go to and how long to spend there. Perhaps try to avoid going to too many gatherings on consecutive days or evenings. You need downtime to be quiet and to refuel. Perhaps you can plan to attend a gathering but not stay from the beginning to the end. That’s more inviting in prospect and more beneficial in retrospect. The aim is to pace yourself and make sure you are getting sufficient time to rebuild your energy levels.
Regular routine is vital for those with depression, especially depression at Christmastime. Your body, mind, and soul flourish when you are following a predictable pattern of sleeping, eating, working, and relaxing. All this is threatened by the irregularity and unpredictability of the holidays. You will have to accept a degree of change in this area in these weeks, yet still fight to maintain as much regularity as you can. You don’t want to waste all your good work in this area.