In former times the celebration of the Birth of Christ and Hanukkah, "The Festival of Lights" characterized the American "Holiday Season." Seemingly in recent years, the pageant of Santa Claus, gift-giving, social interactions, sports and shopping, accentuated by the media, has tended to push the religious origins of the time into the background of our consciousness.
Churches and their leaders, while continuing the well-appreciated traditions, have tended to emphasize this time as one of waiting, anticipation, and patience - The Advent Season - and the importance of our relationship with others. This emphasis on personal and social interactions related to the teachings and traditions of the church or society is often centered on family and religious experiences, hopefully permeated by happiness and joy. However, for some people in our society, holiday inter-actions with family, church, occupation, or other groups present an accentuation of underlying anxiety and depression. The Holiday Season for them can be "The Longest Night," a time of turmoil.
Anxiety/depression is an affective or mood disorder which is very common but often can be transient or short-lived, and responsive to education, simple treatments, the passage of time, or, at times, medication.
The Merck Manual, a modern "Home Medical Advisor," defines this situation well in stating: "Transient [anxiety] depression ["the blues"] may occur as a reaction to certain holidays or significant anniversariesSuch reactions are not abnormal, but persons predisposed to [anxiety] depression may be [afflicted] during such times."
Generally, in helping people with situational anxiety or transient depression, often a caring and friendly conversation can be the most therapeutic modality. Gently educating an involved individual about the condition of the "holiday blues" may be greatly helpful. Most of us feel we are the only ones who are sad because we have lost a friend or relative who used to be a part of our holiday celebration or have undergone another type of loss.
The world situation, magnified by 24-hour news networks and "talking heads," may lead to our thinking only of the less pleasant aspects of our lives. The hustle and bustle of this season, superimposed upon our frenetic daily schedules, may shut out the good news of this special time. How often we race to write our Christmas greetings, but then do not take the time to enjoy the missives sent to us relating the happy news of the lives of our friends and relatives.
Many times physicians and others have had experiences when the best therapy for patients with the "holiday blues" has been directing their efforts away from self-examination and pity to positive efforts directed toward others, often on a one-to-one basis.
For example, is there someone of your family who needs to be welcomed back to the family, someone in your neighborhood, the hospital, or in a nursing home or other communal living who would enjoy a holiday visit, help and/or a food item? Perhaps a church or social group needs your help at this busy holiday season. The Salvation Army or local food shelf would appreciate your donation. Remember the poignant lessons of Charles Dickens's "A Christmas Carol" and the good feelings its thoughts engender in us.
Whether the message is coming from Bethlehem, our local churches and synagogues, each other, or another source, take time to appreciate the message of this holiday season to optimize its beneficial effects to all of us.
May all of you enjoy a Blessed Christmas Holiday Season and Peaceful New Year!