The Worst Kept Secret: Depression

I guest posted on Crystal Twaddell’s Made to Brave blog this week about depression during the holidays. Unfortunately, it is a sad reality that more people are depressed/suicidal/anxious during this time of the year than any other time. As I’ve said before, depression and anxiety go hand in hand. Anxiety is high energy fear of the future, while depression is low energy fear of the past.

It seems that it’s more socially acceptable to be anxious. After all, if you have a busy schedule to be anxious about, doesn’t that make you important or popular? But if you’re depressed, it means (supposedly) that you’re ungrateful for everything in your life, and no one wants to invite you to parties because you drag the mood down. I’m not downplaying the severity of anxiety, but I do believe we as a society talk about anxiety more than we talk about depression. It’s time to continue the conversation by discussing what happens when your anxiety disappears: it is often replaced with depression.

Anxiety is a large part of us. For some of us, it’s who we are. If you struggle with anxiety, can you even think of a time in your life when you weren’t anxious? Although we want to be set free from it, when we finally get better, we sometimes get worse. The hole that anxiety leaves in our lives is big and loud and aggravating. If we’re not anxious, then who are we?

That’s when depression kicks in. When we don’t have something to worry about, we get depressed. When our schedule isn’t filled to the brim, we get depressed. When we don’t have our usual five o’clock panic attack, we get depressed. Not because we miss our anxiety, but because we don’t know how to move forward. I know, because I’ve experienced this big time over the last couple of years.

During the holidays, we expect that Santa Claus and the smell of pine and gingerbread cookies and all the sugar will make of our problems go away. But they don’t. As a matter of fact, the holidays often make things worse for us. Some of us have to see family members we don’t like. Why do we have to sit across the dinner table from the people we haven’t spoken to in twenty years because of a fight that happened over a shovel? Some of us put our hope in gifts only to be sorely disappointed when we unwrap all the presents just to find our hearts as empty as ever. Did you really think that a new computer would make you feel more fulfilled?

With that logic, it’s no wonder that so many people kill themselves or die of natural causes during this time of year. Depression hangs in the air like the frost that comes out of our mouths when we’re whispering in the cold.

But depression is not the final word.

I encourage you this Christmas season to start by being honest. If you’re depressed, please get help. Reach out to a friend. Go to church. Even comment on this post. Be honest about how you feel and why you feel that way. Our emotions are not the truth, but they are an indication that something in your life needs to be fixed. It is essential for you to get the help and answers that you need in order to move on with your life and to enjoy the many blessings of the Christmas season.

This year, I feel like more than ever we’re trying to get back to the true meaning of Christmas, Jesus coming to Earth to bring us peace with God, with others, and with ourselves. If you focus on the other stuff, I cannot guarantee that you will feel peace at the end of the day. However, I am a living testimony that Jesus is the giver of life, not just eternal life when we die, but abundant life while we are still breathing. There have been times where I’ve wondered what the point of life is, and I’ve felt God’s peace saying that He has a purpose for me here. The same is true for you. You may feel depressed, hopeless, even meaningless, but God has a different story for you. The hope of Christmas is that you’re not alone, and that your life is worth living.

Photo by Jilbert Ebrahimi on Unsplash


Anxiety During the Holidays

As a culture, we tend to idolize and idealize holidays.  The food has to be just right.  Everyone has to get along.  The decorations have to be creative and fun, and the house has to be spotless.  You better come up with some good stories and some exciting news to tell your family.  There’s some serious pressure to do everything right and to not mess it up.  After all, you don’t want to be the one ruining the holiday.

I’ve struggled with anxiety for several years, and the holidays have gotten progressively harder for me.  My anxiety tells me that I have to be perfect, that I can’t mess things up, and it literally ruins the holiday for me.  All I ever want to do on the holiday is stay home and do nothing.  But that’s not the way the world works.  I don’t get to call in sick to Christmas.

When I started dating my husband, I actually confessed this to him.  I was nervous about being around his family, especially since I was meeting a lot of them for the first time.  What if their first impression of me was not good, and they hated me for the rest of our lives together?  They also had their own set of rules that I was afraid I would ruin.  But if I went back to my own house, I felt like I was walking on a tightrope, and that anything I said or did could cause everything to go off balance.

I am fully aware that all of this is irrational, but it does not shake the feeling that I get whenever the holidays roll around.  What I’ve learned after letting this happen is that, if I let anxiety win, I miss out on a great day.  Since I’ve been praying and having the support of my husband holding me accountable, I’ve been conscious about not letting my anxiety get the best of me.  I intentionally focus on what I look forward to, not what I anticipate going wrong.  And for the last couple of years, I’ve actually been able to laugh, talk, and relax with both sides of my family instead of being overcome with anxiety.

If you are like me, here are some practical tips that I have discovered to at least avoid the panicking feeling:

  • Watch what you eat/drink.  People tend to indulge on sugary snacks and drinks during the holidays.  Sugar causes your heart to race, which in turn causes your anxiety to increase.  Alcohol may calm your anxiety, but it may also give you acid reflux.  Be aware of how certain foods affect your body.  If you’re feeling anxious, drink some water or some peppermint/herbal tea to calm down your body.
  • Remember the true meaning of the holidays.   As a Christian, I celebrate Christmas, the time of year where we remember Jesus our Savior coming to Earth.  Jesus is the Prince of Peace, the one who reconciles all people to each other as well as to God.  When I am anxious, I can remember that Jesus is the Prince of Peace.  When I am nervous about upsetting someone, I can remember that my identity is in Christ and not in what people say about me.  If you’re feeling anxious, remember that God is with you.  One of God’s names is Emmanuel, which means God With Us.  God is with you, even in your time of weakness.
  • Guard your heart.  Not everyone believes the same things that you do.  Some people might mock you for trusting in God.  Do not let their negativity, complaining, or criticizing keep you down.  If you need to separate yourself, find another family member to talk to.  If someone wants to chew your ear off about how wrong you are, don’t let it get to you.  Just take a deep breath and let it go in one ear and out the other.
  • Breathe.  The holidays are meant to be a time for relaxation, reflection, and fun.  Don’t let your anxiety get in the way of the rest that you deserve.  You work hard all year, so you are allowed one free day where you don’t have to do anything.  You can be anxious any other time this year; give yourself a break just this one day.  Literally, close your eyes, breathe in through your nose, and out through your mouth, until the anxiety is gone.  The anxiety will pass; you just have to let it leave.

Merry Christmas to all!  I pray that the Prince of Peace, Jesus Christ, meets you all in a special way this year.  I can’t wait to hear what He does in your life!

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash