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Christmas anxiety and depression

By Jim Killebrew

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[December 07, 2013]  Anxiety and depression loom around Christmastime. For people who have suffered loss, clinicians remind us there is an attack on the inward self that manifests itself in ways that cannot be controlled. A variety of symptoms emerge that leave one with a sense of hopelessness and despair. It affects not only the emotional state, but the physical as well.

Some common symptoms that are generally cited by clinicians include some of the following:
  • Losing or gaining weight by having a poor appetite.

  • Inability to sleep by waking during the night or sleeping more than usual.

  • A feeling of always being sad or anxious; perhaps a feeling that nothing matters any more.

  • Pacing or moving about in restlessness or constantly being irritable with those around you.

  • Feeling that in most situations you are helpless and consequently worthless; an overwhelming feeling of guilt about anything or everything.

  • Seeing the world around you from a pessimistic perspective; a feeling of being driven toward hopelessness.

  • Great difficulty in making decisions or thinking about daily actions; even a lack of memory.

  • A morbid attachment to thoughts of death or even thinking or planning suicide; in some cases even attempting suicide.

  • Being tired all the time, no energy, like the weight of the world is slowing you down and making you sink in the mire of mundane tasks around you.

  • No interest anymore in things that used to bring pleasure, like family activities, personal hobbies, even sexual activities.

  • Physical ailments that cannot be relieved, like aches and pains that are difficult to explain or locate, and cannot be found by your doctor.

As one might guess, the symptoms listed above are those of anxiety and depression that affect people anytime throughout the year. It seems, however, that these symptoms are exacerbated especially during the Christmas season. The question might be asked as to why that could be.

Several answers come to mind:

The most obvious, of course, is that around Christmas, people are generally making plans to gather with their family. Christmas is a natural holiday season for families to gather and celebrate the season. A person who has experienced the loss of a loved one feels especially sad during that time since the effect of the loss is much more intensified.

Another reason is that in general, people begin to somehow "soften" their tolerance of daily irritations around them. Even people in large cities seem to make eye contact for a millisecond or two when passing on the street. People seem to become more helpful than usual.

Even though most Western cultures are materialistic in nature, there is still a veil of "religiosity" that descends on the culture during those weeks between the American Thanksgiving holiday and Christmas Day. That is usually manifested in more smiles, greater cheer toward others, little acts of kindness, a feeling of generosity, and traditions of giving and receiving gifts as a form of celebration. When people who are hurting experience this, it sometimes causes the hurt to run deeper.

Those traditions have evolved through the years in many countries, including the United States, that actually change the environment with decorations that are tied specifically to the season. So much so, in fact, that those whose personal perspectives diminish the actual reason meant to celebrate the birth of Jesus have instead decorated the environment to create a holiday season that somehow celebrates the coming of winter more than the birth of Christ. Chestnuts are usually roasting on an open fire, trees are glistening everywhere you look, sleigh bells are ringing in our ears, and the holiday season somehow has to be white with snow to make it happier. Government and retailers have contributed to the season by tacking onto it the economic indicators that enhance the bottom line with huge sales during the last fiscal quarter of the year.

The problem with the holiday season with all of its external trappings is that it brings with it a certain amount of stress and pressure to "keep up," so that many become overwhelmed with the prospects of just keeping in the race. With the requirements of keeping up in the holiday season race, school activities, buying presents, going to parties, staying sober enough to think, pleasing those around us, even re-entering an oft-forgotten religious ritual becomes an attack on the person's senses and emotional well-being.

Attack can be deadly

It is an attack really, especially for those who are already undergoing emotional stress, anxiety and depression. The difference is that the holiday season is an attack not only on the psyche and emotions, but also an attack on the heart. It is an external attack that places requirements of performance, compliance, conformity and agreement with stressors that are not desired or wanted.

Even in the Bible we find that attack on the heart:
"Anxiety in a person's heart weighs him down..." Proverbs 12:25

Anxiety is coupled with fear: fear of failure, fear of rejection, fear of loss of love, fear of continuing to fight the fight and endure the anxiety. That anxious fear is so debilitating that it brings the person to their knees. It weighs heavily on their heart, brings down the spirit and causes depression.

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Christmas celebration

Just as much as the holiday season ushered in over the years of tradition brings an attack on the heart through stress, anxiety and depression for some people; by contrast, the Christmas season offers healing, restoration, freedom and redemption of the heart.

Notice that I am contrasting "holiday season" with "Christmas season."

The other part of the Proverb verse cited above is this: " but an encouraging word brings him joy." Proverbs 12:25

Life is beneficial; there are good things to life. The "encouraging word" in life is all these things; plus it promotes life, creates life and protects life. The encouraging word brings encouragement, kindness and insight to help the person grow into an understanding of what life is all about beyond the accumulation of possessions and materialism. The person is brought back to a proper perspective of life and love and set right with a renewed confidence.

As mankind moves away farther and farther from God's redeeming love, the effects of the external attack are more pronounced. Humans were created to worship God and have communion with Him.

The Apostle Paul wrote to the Christians in Ephesus in a letter entitled Ephesians, a part of the Holy Bible: "For we are his workmanship, having been created in Christ Jesus for good works that God prepared beforehand so we may do them." Ephesians 2:10

We were created in Christ Jesus so that we could walk in good works through Jesus. This was a promise long before any of us were even born. God had made a plan to redeem us through Jesus, and our very life, our spirit, longs to worship Him and yield to His redemptive power to work through us His good works as He helps us proclaim to a dying world that peace and goodwill come only through Him.

Many people try to find relief for their symptoms of anxiety, stress, depression and emotional upset by taking medicine and seeking help from the clinical world. For sure, there are many who find some relief in chemicals and self-help exercises or talk therapies evolved from men's theories of mental health, but the actual healing of the heart comes through the yielding of the body, mind, soul and spirit to the God of creation, Who created us to live without fear, anxiety and depression.

Again, the Apostle Paul wrote to the Christians who lived in Philippi, a Greek settlement that had come under Roman rule, advice that each person who accepts Jesus as Christ should yield to:

"Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I say, rejoice! Let everyone see your gentleness. The Lord is near! Do not be anxious about anything. Instead, in every situation, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, tell your requests to God. And the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

"Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is worthy of respect, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if something is excellent or praiseworthy, think about these things. And what you learned and received and heard and saw in me, do these things. And the God of peace will be with you." Philippians 4:4-9

For all Christians everywhere, we should live in a state of rejoicing in the Lord, Who has given Himself as a sacrifice on the cross and shed His blood so we could be redeemed from sin and death and live in Him a life of hope and salvation. Our gentleness should be seen by everyone; people will know that we have the power of God in our lives because all around us the world is in the race of power, competition, lust, materialism, greed and being caught up in the attack of the heart that results in fear, anxiety and depression.

We are to throw off anxiety and fear, rid ourselves of the resultant depression by living in the knowledge that God is more powerful than any attack that may come. We live through prayer and asking God to indwell our spirit with His Spirit and offer thanksgiving constantly for His watchful care over us.

This results in a peace that transcends all human understanding, a peace that floods our soul with knowing that in Christ Jesus our hearts and minds are guarded against all the attacks of the world.

Rearrange thinking

Finally, the Apostle Paul says that we should change our thinking to substitute for the worldly "Happy Holiday" thinking with thoughts that come from the "Christmas season" thinking. He said, "Whatever is true, whatever is worthy of respect, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if something is excellent or praiseworthy, think about these things."

Substitute things that are untrue with things that are true; things that deserve respect instead of so many things that should be ignored; things that are just instead of things that are unjust; pure, lovely, commendable things that bring joy and happiness rather than hateful, lustful, rancorous things that bring fear and anxiety; and finally, substitute thinking about excellent or praiseworthy things rather than dwelling on guttural or sinful things.

As we think on these things, something miraculous happens: As we submit ourselves to Christ and live in Him, we turn loose of our own external power to live for ourselves, release ourselves to His saving grace and redemptive power, and we begin to be filled with His Holy Spirit, Who gives us power to live and work and experience our being in Him.

Outside of that Christmas season power, we are subject to the internal, personally created strength of the mankind-created holiday season. Merry Christmas!

[By JIM KILLEBREW]

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