Dear Dr. B,
I saw your recent Facebook post about depression and knew I had to write. It’s getting close to that time of the year when things are supposed to be “merry and bright” and yet, I feel anything but. I find the holidays stressful, and frequently become depressed before the new year has arrived. I’d really like for this year to be different. Do you have any advice?
Feeling Down This Holiday
I’m afraid I’m well acquainted with the exact feelings you describe. Not everyone experiences holiday cheer during this time of year, and I have had years that were not so festive within my heart either.
For many, a big part of what contributes to the holiday blues, are unmet expectations.
Whether we give voice to them or not, we all have expectations for how we think things will go, what will happen, and how we will be affected. We carry our expectations into the holidays—how we perceive things should be. Yet others may not share our same perspective or expectations of what the holidays should be like, how events will transpire, or what their role will be. They cannot see our mental picture that depicts those expectations, or the role that we anticipate they will play in our imagined scenario.
For example, we may not even realize it, but we rehearse in our heads what the meals will taste like, and what will be said when company visits. We imagine how conversations will flow, and how others will react when we give them the “perfect gift.”
We also often have expectations of ourselves: finding the perfect gift for each person on our list, sending out the perfect Christmas card or family photo, making the perfect meal, or having the house white-glove clean for company. Our perfect expectations are the perfect recipe for frustration and failure.
We often cannot control what happens to us, nor can we control others’ responses. When our expectations do not come to pass, we may feel disappointed, frustrated, angry, or depressed.
One way to combat depression during the holidays is to release our expectations; Release our expectations of others and ourselves.
I once saw a Christmas card photo of a family’s three toddler-age children, each holding one letter to spell out the word “Joy.” But instead of a perfect smiling family, all three children were crying. That parent knew how to release expectations for the perfect Christmas card. And truthfully, I probably enjoyed it more than the perfect scenario, because I got a good chuckle from it.
By releasing our expectations of others and ourselves, we can more easily take things as they come, and enjoy the experience rather than wishing a different outcome. It shifts our perspective from the negative (focusing on what didn’t happen the way we wanted or expected) to the positive (focusing on the positive of what occurred).
The Bible cautions, “We can make our plans, but the Lord determines our steps” (Proverbs 16:9 NLT).
Will you release some expectations this holiday season and enjoy more?
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