Our memories of Christmases past are filled with joy and togetherness. This year, however, things are different. We may not be traveling to visit family; a video conference call will have to do. The Christmas programs and services at our United Methodist congregation may be online: no candles or congregational singing.
Because the songs of the season tell us this is “the most wonderful time of the year,” we feel pressure to be jolly. But sometimes we’re not.
If you or someone you love is struggling with the holiday blues, you are not alone. Many people are finding the season difficult this year.
While these tips may not make one jolly, they can help us celebrate and worship more fully through this holy season.
Accept your feelings
Though you may feel like you are supposed to be merry, don’t force it. "You just can't be where you're not,” says retired United Methodist state correctional chaplain, The Rev. Ben Wright. “So if you feel down,” he continues, “feel down.” As he tells the members of the grief support group he facilitates in his United Methodist congregation, “When we acknowledge that we are down, it helps us.”
We also ought to give others space to feel whatever they are feeling as well. United Methodist counselor Cindy Elrod cautions, “be in touch with your own anxiety that may surface when you are in the presence of someone who appears to be in distress, so that you are not trying to ‘fix’ them in order to ease your own distress.”
There can be a lot of pressure to make Christmas perfect. Megan Forshey, program manager of Gilda’s Club Nashville, reminds us to, “try to let go of how things have always been or are supposed to be and allow this holiday to reflect your current reality.” If you are feeling blue, the goal of perfection can lead to stress or disappointment. Keep expectations realistic, and receive the season as it comes.
When supporting a friend though a difficult period, help keep the pressure low. Don’t push the “holiday spirit” on them. Offer others space and permission to cancel plans, or initiate a deep conversation on a day you had planned for celebration.
While we can't get together in the ways we have in Christmases past, don’t isolate yourself. Retired United Methodist Chaplain, Lieutenant Colonel Daniel H. Nigolian of the United States Air Force, encourages those who are struggling to “get with other people.” When serving those deployed far from family during the holidays, “Chaplains work very hard to provide fellowship opportunities for the troops whenever and wherever they happen to be,” he shares.
Nigolian also recommends remaining in contact with those who are feeling blue during the holidays. “I always worry about the person who is alone,” he says. “I would stay with that person until relieved by someone close to him or her. I think it's that important.” So stick close and remember that not everything you do together needs to be Christmas related. You can choose to connect for no reason at all.
Care for the body
Physical factors such as fatigue and low blood sugar, can contribute to a sense of sadness. When feeling down, extra attention to your health is helpful. “Take care of yourself,” Forshey urges. “Adequate sleep, exercise, and good nutrition relieve stress, deter depression and improve self-esteem.” That doesn’t mean you have to avoid every Christmas cookie, but take care of your body.
Healthy habits are sometimes set aside during the holidays. When supporting one who is struggling, you can help by offering to go for a walk together or by making healthy eating choices. The disciplines of diet and exercise always seems a little easier with a partner. Be that partner.
Be mindful of times you talk to yourself in ways you would never speak to another. Thoughts like, “I should be over this by now,” or “I’m ruining Christmas for everyone,” add guilt, which exacerbates the sadness. Instead, look for things to celebrate. When you join that conference call, pat yourself on the back. When you turn down that third Christmas cookie, tell yourself how proud you are of your accomplishment. Be your own cheerleader.
Cindy Elrod reminds us also to be cognizant of what we say to others. “Avoid these phrases: ‘It’s Christmas! Catch the spirit!,’ ‘You’re just sad because you WANT to be sad!,’ ‘I know just how you feel.,’ or ‘If you really believed in the reason for the season, you wouldn't be sad.’” None of these is helpful. “Giving advice,” Elrod continues, “often results in the other person feeling minimized, dismissed, judged, or unheard.” Focus your attention on listening rather than talking during this time.
Although your congregation may not be holding their Christmas Eve services or regular Christmas programs in person this year, you can still find ways to worship, and celebrate the hope we feel in Christmas.
Read some Advent devotions (see links to ours in the sidebar). Sing some Advent hymns and Christmas carols. Participate in online worship throughout Advent and find a Christmas Eve service. To find a United Methodist church near you offering special worship gatherings, use Find-A-Church.
It is unrealistic to expect you or your loved ones to feel better simply because it is the season to be jolly. Be intentional in addressing your sadness. It may not feel like the most wonderful time of the year this year, but the event we are celebrating – “The Word became flesh and made his home among us” (John 1:14 CEB) – reminds us that Jesus is near, even when we are feeling down.
This story was first published on December 4, 2014. This edited version was published December 11, 2020.
*Joe Iovino is Director, Member Communications at United Methodist Communications. He may be reached at [email protected].