The holidays are supposed to be a blissful time of peace, joy and good will for everyone. But what happens to the millions of people who dread this time of year? You know–Depression isn’t only for those who have been clinically diagnosed.
For many people, the holiday season is a grueling and seemingly never-ending period of time that starts with Halloween and runs all the way through New Year’s Day. I’ve been married for 28 years to my husband, Angel, a wonderful man whom I love very much. But every time the holiday season rolls around, he gets depressed because he is reminded of the trauma he suffered at 20 years old, when his beloved father, Conception Tomas Amador died of a stroke, 2 days before Christmas. His father’s sudden death was the first in a series of losses that Angel still grieves every holiday.
Over the years since our kids have become adults, I notice that his sadness and grief seems to have intensified. When we were a younger couple with our kids as children, Angel would do everything he could to create fun and spectacular holidays for the family. After everyone went home, he would grieve alone by sitting and watching TV, drinking until he fell asleep. I’m so grateful that he’s long since stopped abusing alcohol, but I assume his sadness and depression has gotten worse because he no longer needs to put on a brave front to ‘act’ happy for the children. I’ve also learned that with each grief that remains unresolved, the next loss experienced is even harder to overcome. For many people grieving the same loss years later, it’s necessary to seek out professional help, but taking this step must be their decision, and not yours.
Our thoughts are powerful
In her book, “Mind Over Medicine: Scientific Proof That You Can Heal Yourself,” New York Times Best selling author, Lissa Rankin, MD. explains how our bodies are equipped with self-repair mechanisms that can be switched on and off by the quality of the thoughts we think.
Using 50 years of scientific case studies of people who have experienced spontaneous healing and remissions, Dr. Rankin proves that loneliness, pessimism, depression, fear, and anxiety damage the body and inhibit its ability to heal itself, while intimate relationships, gratitude, meditation, sex, and authentic self-expression flip on the body’s self-healing processes.
According to Wikipedia, depressed people tend to replay their mistakes and failures over and over. They become consumed with feelings and thoughts of regret, guilt, shame, self-hatred, and hopelessness. Believing that their thoughts are true, they end up suffering feeling worthless, self-defeated and unwanted.
As a stress relief expert, I’ve learned the hard way that there’s a certain pressure release that comes with venting, but it’s just not enough. Because although it may feel good in the moment to get something off of your chest, most likely your frustrations will only come back to haunt you, the moment you’re reminded of what upset you in the first place. The bomb sequence has been initiated. Tick, tick, tick.
To go a step beyond what Dr. Rankin says about stress being harmful. The reality is that stress is no joke. We don’t give it the attention it deserves. It can kill you. In fact did you know that up to 80% of women working in America are either toxically stressed or close to that breaking point. So unless you use an actual stress-relief technique that can activate your body’s relaxation response and reduce the chemical load of stress hormones pounding your body, you’ll eventually only work yourself up into a lather and stay frustrated and miserable. That’s because by just griping about what’s bugging you, won’t get you untangled from that never-ending loop of frustration. Why? Because you’ll only be reinforcing the message to your brain that you’re helpless to get out from under whatever’s pinning you down. The latest scientific research shows that when you are under stress, your body is in a fight or flight sequence. Stress chemicals like harmful cortisol and adrenaline pour into your system and these bad boys create a lock down/shut down sequence in your system that bolts the upset in place, making it repeat over and over again in your brain every time you’re reminded of it. That’s why when you’re under overwhelming stress, you shut down mentally and you’re unable to think clearly, because just like a broken record, you’re stuck.
Fully immersed in the memory of whatever is upsetting you, your brain can’t tell the difference between imagination and reality. That’s why only talking about your problems makes them seem that much bigger.
Automatic Negative Thoughts (ANTS): What they are and how they affect you
Science has proven that we talk to ourselves thousands of times a day and most of what we say in our heads is a cycle of repetitive and negative thoughts. These are known as Automatic Negative Thoughts and if they get out of hand, they can really mess up a good day.
In his book, “Breaking the Habit of Being Yourself,” renowned author, speaker, researcher, and chiropractor, Dr. Joe Dispenza combines the fields of quantum physics, neuroscience, brain chemistry, biology, and genetics and teaches people how to change their old habits. He explains what goes on with our bodies and how we can become addicted to negative emotions.
When you do something enough times, it becomes a well-worn habit that gets caught up in your body’s memory. You can’t change a problem that’s rooted in your body by trying to use your mind. That’s like trying to break up an iceberg with a spoon.
Most of us have been taught to avoid feeling certain emotions because it’s not socially acceptable. As a young child, I was always told, “good little girls don’t get angry.” So I never felt comfortable expressing anger. In fact I didn’t even realize that I was angry because my response to feeling angry was to unconsciously stuff food in my mouth and eat. I used to think that my problem was that I had no self-control around food. Now I understand that my food issues were really just covering up all the uncomfortable emotions I didn’t feel that I could display. If you can relate to feeling like you’ve been sitting on your emotions or trying to stifle them away, you probably realize that their intensity only grows bigger. The good news is–When we accept those emotions then we can release them and let them go.
Tap. Emotional Freedom Technique, also known as EFT or tapping is a powerful stress-relief technique that calms you down by activating your body’s natural relaxation response which turns on the self-healing mechanisms that Dr. Rankin refers to in her book, “Mind Over Medicine.”
Tapping has changed my life and made it possible for me to undo much of the damage of an abusive past. It is my path to peace and my secret ingredient to creating kick butt confidence even when I’m shaking in my shoes. I use it myself on a daily basis and As the photo to the left shows, I teach my clients how to use tapping to feel better. It works on the basis of tapping gently on your body’s acupressure points which sends a calming signal to the brain causing a production of feel good chemicals like serotonin and dopamine which relax your muscles at the same time that they calm your thoughts.
Recently the United States Veteran’s Administration has given their seal of approval to using EFT labeling it as a generally ‘safe’ therapy. For several years since 2004 EFT has been used in the therapeutic treatment of veterans suffering with PTSD.
Depression is the emotional price we pay for trying to wrestle down our hostile, pessimistic, angry, intimidating and often cruel inner critic. If your loved one is struggling with depression, try to empathize with them and realize that they are being tormented by their negative thoughts. You can help them by being more compassionate.
Here are some tips to help you better understand a loved one facing holiday depression and some ways to cope with your own ensuing sadness:
It’s not about you. Sadness and grief is a deeply personal experience that everyone has to go through in their own time. If your loved one is sad and feels like ‘skipping the holidays’ is what they need, it’s not a reflection of their feelings about you. By keeping that in mind, you are free to choose what you want to do. In the early years when I didn’t understand that his grief wasn’t a personal attack on me, I would always pick fights with Angel, trying to guilt him into getting into the ‘holiday spirit.’ That never worked because it would only put him on the defensive and we ended up getting into a big argument.
Focus – Make your spirit strong by grounding your thoughts in reality. If your thoughts are racing, it’s easy to get overwhelmed and feel powerless and begin taking on the ‘poor me’ role of a victim. If your loved one is swept up in sadness, and you don’t have a way to manage your own negative thoughts, you will get caught up in the wave of their grief. Living with a man who struggles with depression, I’ve learned that I can handle anything as long as I quiet my mind and slow down my thoughts. I swear by meditation. My idea of doing that is to sit in a favorite spot, usually a chair that reclines or on a comfortable sofa. I start with my neck upright, but as I get more relaxed, my head drops closer to my chest. I just close my eyes and watch my thoughts from the perspective of being an observer. Within a short time, I’ll start to sigh and yawn and with each deep exhalation, I can feel my body relaxing more deeply. I prefer to set a timer so that I don’t have to open my eyes to keep track of the time. My goal in meditating is to feel physically looser and relaxed, with my mind calm and my thoughts more peaceful. If I don’t feel better by the time my timer goes off, I’ll re-set the timer and close my eyes and meditate again. I’ve learned that by making a habit to meditate each day, sometimes several times during the day, it gives me a sense of peace and compassion and an awareness that I can handle anything.
Set realistic expectations. Your grieving loved one is filled with pain, and thinks of themselves as being at the mercy of their circumstances. There is nothing that you can do to change their mind. Don’t even try. Now is not the time to go crazy cleaning the house and turning yourself inside-out in an effort to get them to come out of their funk. To a large extent their depression is out of their hands and if they also abuse substances like medication, drugs or alcohol, it’s even more out of control. At this time, don’t expect them to acknowledge your needs because they can’t see beyond their grief. Don’t’ focus on trying to win their love and appreciation now, because they can’t even muster it up for themselves. Spend your time focusing on what is important to you. Reserve your efforts for doing things you enjoy.
Break the silence. Mental illness and depression carries a huge stigma in our society. But in order to get out from the loop of feeling helpless, you have to break the silence and voice your needs. Find a time when your loved one is most receptive and open to talking. In a soft, steady, sweet and gentle voice, tell them how much you love them and respect their wishes to grieve alone. Speak your truth in a way that honors and acknowledges your beloved’s need to grieve. Gently and firmly make it clear to them in a soft and loving voice that you choose to spend your time differently. If you find joy in working, volunteering, or staying at home, then let them know you want to do that. If however you choose to celebrate the holiday, then you can either stay home and invite people to your house or go out to participate in events and be with friends. With any combination of choices you make, let your loved one know that their presence will never be expected but would always be welcomed.
Create Your Own Traditions – Decide what’s important to you and negotiate the rest. If you want to decorate the tree and bake cookies and your loved one isn’t willing, honor their wishes to bow out gracefully. When the kids were young, I always had a tree and all the trappings. As they have gotten older, decorating lost its importance for me. But I love listening to and singing Christmas carols. My favorite hymn is “Silent Night” because it reminds me of beautiful Christmases past spent with my Nana in church singing with the choir. For years I found great comfort in spending time with my church family, going to Christmas service, decorating, eating and feeling so loved and appreciated. Another favorite tradition was delivering hot meals to senior citizens for my local chapter of Meals on Wheels. Then a few years later my daughter, Cara worked as a chef’s assistant there to gain kitchen experience prior to her admission to The Culinary Institute of America. She would work at Meals on Wheels during the holiday rush and I’d pick her up and it was so fun. Having a chance to get a tour of a professional kitchen and dish with the chef about recipes and food was a dream come true for me.
But for the past two years since we moved far away, I don’t belong to a church. Last year I didn’t feel the pain of Angel’s sadness because I knew my cat, Owie was dying and I was grieving his loss a month before he passed away. At that time, I also hadn’t yet made meditation or coping with my stress a priority yet.
This year Cara won’t be with us. She is spending Thanksgiving with her her boyfriend’s parents in Maine. Then at the beginning of December, they will both leave Maine to work at a ski resort in Idaho. A couple days ago when she texted me to let me know of her decision, I felt shocked and hurt. I still feel a bit of a sting, but I know that has more to do with my own personal sense of abandonment from my father than her choice to live her life.
Maybe part of her decision was based on the fact that the holidays can be pretty quiet around here and Elijah’s family have many wonderful traditions she loves. Oh well! It is what it is! I’ve come to learn that there’s a lot of power in accepting our current situation. Acceptance of what is already present in your life, doesn’t mean that it can not change it just relieves you of the resistance that comes from trying to pretend it doesn’t exist. Whether it’s sadness over missing my dad or my daughter, or my precious Owie, it’s all the same. The people in my life whether I feel close to them as family or not, are all outside influences that I can never control. I can only control myself, my own actions, how I feel and what I think. I have no business in worrying about what other people think and what they do. Even and especially my family.
I give myself a lot of credit for not falling apart. Last year this time I would have been a wreck, crying, bingeing and, begging Cara to come home and spend Thanksgiving or Christmas with us. Well in truth, I wouldn’t have begged her, I would have complained endlessly to Angel. And used that misery as the glue to connect with him through my grief and missing Cara. Such a convoluted mess trying to manipulate other people to do what you want. But this year those old games don’t feel good to me. I want to be happy. I acknowledge that I am sad and I do miss my precious girl and I’ll probably never get over missing my father, but I acknowledge that this sadness I feel will pass. I don’t have to let it consume me.
If I’m honest with myself I realize that I am grieving the loss of connection I felt with Cara when she was younger and single, before she met Elijah. He’s a wonderful guy, and they both have my blessing, but it’s going to be a transition for me to get used to Cara not just being my daughter, but also being an adult with a partner she loves. It’s all good and as soon as I can do some tapping on releasing my regret that things aren’t different, I’ll feel much better.
The fact is–Life does goes on and although I have many regrets around missing loved ones, here and not here, I have many other pursuits that bring me joy. Since I’ve stopped eating meat, I’ve been learning to make delicious vegan meals for myself. That is so much fun. I’ve been buying vegan cookbooks and experimenting with so many wonderful meatless/plant-based recipes. I also revel in the joy of learning how to use Photoshop to create killer designs for myself and my clients.
This past week I pulled out my Nana’s old sewing machine to mend a tear in a dress. It gave me such joy to get my old sewing buzz back that I decided I’m going to start sewing again more often. And don’t even get me started on how much I love to listen to George Michael’s music as I work and write. It’s so true. The more I focus on the things that bring me joy, the happier I feel.
In general, It feels good to know that I don’t have to rely on my daughter, husband or anyone else to make me feel happy. I can do it for myself.
Overall, I feel much more grounded and realize that Angel can choose to be depressed but I don’t have to go down the drain with him.
Reach out – I’ve learned by experiencing my own bout with depression last year that sadness thrives in solitude. During that time I pushed away all my friends and made up a story and told myself that nobody loved me.
As I began meditating and dealing with my stress more intentionally, I realized that I had created much of my own misery by pushing away those who loved me. Gradually over the past year I’ve been reconnecting with old friends and family and it’s a blessing to realize that despite my not staying in close contact with them, I never left their hearts.
On Christmas Day, if it’s too difficult staying home, I’ve also decided to use going to the movies as an exit strategy. I always used to wonder why movies were open on Christmas Day. Now I know.
Embrace the joy of giving – It’s easy to take your mind off of your worries when you’re focused on satisfying other people’s needs. Donating your time or gifts will give you a tremendous sense of well-being because it elevates the serotonin levels in the brain which are the chemicals that create joy. During past holiday seasons, Angel and I used to buy extra turkeys and donate them to the church. Angel is so sweet and friendly and talks to everyone, making them feel so special. One day he was chatting with the owner of our favorite Chinese takeout restaurant and he learned that he and his family really loved turkey, but they didn’t really know how to prepare it to taste good. Angel told him that he would make him his special Spanish-style garlic seasoned turkey and bring it a few days later. When Angel arrived at the restaurant with both arms holding a hot turkey in a pan, and presented it to the owner, the whole staff was so overjoyed and wanted to take photos with him. From that point on, each time we went into the restaurant they would rave about his turkey. It was a very special moment that I love to remember. Think about something that you could do to make someone’s day brighter.
Take action – Sitting home alone toughing it out watching someone having an endless pity party can be a demoralizing and frustrating experience. Resentment and anger grow quickly and before you know it you’re blaming them for your misery. That’s not fair, and it’s not accurate. You are responsible for making your own decision of what you want to do. Choosing to remain with your loved one comes at a cost. Are you willing to pay the price of their seasonal sadness?
If you are, then you need to know that you have to be the one to be grounded in reality. It’s easy to slide down a slippery slope right into your own version of depression. I recommend finding friends, online groups, offline groups and family members who can support you in keeping your chin up and celebrating the holiday while also offering you a shoulder to cry on or whatever else you need.
By following the tips I’ve shared here, you will have a good amount of resources that will give you some serious traction to prevent you from slipping into the ditch of depression so that you can put your heart into feeling the joy and living the love.
Another holiday season is here and you’re feeling fat, ugly, miserable and all kinds of insecure. No matter if you’re feeling depressed and unloved, heartbroken with grief feeling lonely and alone or worried about anticipating a reunion with all the crazies in your life who have their finger all over your hot buttons- the pressure of those emotions is enough to make any sane person crazy.
But this year can be different, because you will be different. You don’t have to feel enslaved by your misery, anxiety and insecurity anymore. I’ve created a survey for you to tell me more about your challenges with depression so that I can give you support to follow your bliss. I’d love it if you would fill it out.
Click the link to share your feedback with me and if you want to get a jump on feeling better now, take my 5 day ecourse, Follow Your Bliss. In 5 days, I share with you 5 things you can do to feel better now. Click here to get started.
Andrea Amador, is “The Juicy Woman” and the author of the book, Lovin’ the Skin You’re In. As a curvy and confident body image expert, she says, “we’re always teaching people how we want to be treated and it’s never too late to make a change.” Learn some of her now and zen stress relief body loving and soul hugging secrets to wind down and cope with all the food, frazzle and frenzy so you can beat the holiday blues.