The holidays are funny sometimes.
It’s the most wonderful time of the year, according to Andy Williams, and I have to say I agree…for the most part. But this is the time of year when the people I talk to give me “that smile” when they’re wishing me a merry Christmas.
You know that smile…it’s the one where you’re pretty sure they’re not 100% convinced that it’s going to be a merry Christmas.
Sure, the Christmas lights are great. The decorations are fun. The music inspires nostalgia. But does it produce good cheer? It depends.
Back To Brain Health … Sort Of
Last week, I took a week off of my brain health series to wish you a Happy Thanksgiving. This week, I want to go back to the brain, but at the same time, I also want to address something that has been eating at me about the holidays.
They are supposed to be fun, joyful celebrations of all that is good in life.
But sometimes, they just aren’t.
You’ve been there. I’ve been there. Even if this is your best Christmas season ever, you remember the ones that weren’t so good…the ones when there weren’t presents under the tree for your kids…or you were alone when you weren’t supposed to be.
Sometimes, Christmas hurts. All the more so because it’s not supposed to. Ever. We’re supposed to be gleaming, sparkling lights of gratitude and joy during the holidays, and we feel guilty and ashamed if we aren’t.
Sometimes, depression does all the talking during the holidays. And when guilt and shame join the conversation, it makes us not want the holidays to even come around.
Ask me how I know.
The Roots Of Holiday Depression
Depression is a funny word because clinicians have made it into a medical condition. It has all kinds of dark connotations about it. Certainly, there are people sitting alone with the curtains drawn right now. There are people who can’t get out of bed because their pain is like a sack of wet concrete around them. One out of eight Americans is taking a prescription drug for depression, and those are just the ones who have received a clinical diagnosis.
But what about those of us who haven’t received a diagnosis, we just have the blues during the holidays? Is that depression real? It hurts enough to be real.
Holiday depression is often linked to unfulfilled expectations and disappointment. Part of us wants every Christmas to be like our memories of the one when we were seven years old (or at least what we think it was like). We expected a gift we didn’t get. We want a departed loved one to come home.
Nostalgia, for all its warm feelings, can be a cruel taskmaster.
Three Sides Of The Fight
Humans have three parts: spirit, soul, and body. There is a spiritual component to depression, a mental/emotional component, and a physical component. Whether you are taking a prescription or you just want the holidays to be over because you don’t want to deal with the emotions, there are things you can do in all three areas.
At the center of it all is the brain. The brain is a physical organ that responds to nutrition and electrochemical stimulation, but it is also where the memory and emotions live, and it’s where you make decisions. It’s where you connect with yourself, the people around you, and God. That said, a healthy brain is as important for your emotional wellness as it is for your mental and physical wellness.
So let’s take a look at how to confront the holiday blues from three directions.
I know you’ve heard this your whole life, but there is some truth to it: you are what you eat.
If your diet isn’t giving your body the nutrients it needs at the proper levels, it will mess with your mind and your emotions. There is good clinical evidence linking depression to Vitamin D deficiency, magnesium deficiency, and an excess of sugar and other carbs.
Here in the USA, it is tempting to think that just because we feel full, we are nourished, and it’s simply not true. Over-farming has depleted much our soil of its magnesium content so that mineral is lacking in the fruits and vegetables that are supposed to be high in it. Magnesium is linked to over 300 different cellular functions, so if you’re missing it, you’re missing out. While I would rather see you get your nutrients from your food, there are some minerals like magnesium that I will sometimes recommend a supplement. If you call my office or send me an email, I’ll give you some ideas.
Vitamin D and Vitamin C are closely tied together and both are critical for good health. Many of your favorite Vitamin C-rich foods are also a good source of Vitamin D, but wild salmon is, too.
There are some good Vitamin D supplements on the market (of course, there’s some real garbage out there, too), but make sure it’s a D3, not a D2. And be sure to take it in tandem with a K2 supplement and a magnesium supplement. Again, I can give you some tips if you call the office.
Reduce Your Sugar
I know: what kind of horrible Grinch tells you to reduce your sugar during the holidays? But the ups-and-downs of sugar consumption fuels much of the manic and depressive emotional turmoil we experience during the holidays.
One of my friends recently told me that, when he takes his kids out for ice cream, by the time they get home, one of them is usually grouchy and others are bouncing off the walls and laughing. Sugar affects us all in different ways, but it almost always intensifies and amplifies emotions.
How much of our holiday emotion is driven by sugar…not to mention the carb crash that typically follows bingeing?
But possibly the best place to get good Vitamin D is sunlight, especially in the middle of the day. There are good clinical reasons that happiness is depicted as sunshine and gloom is depicted as clouds.
Here in Southwest Florida, there is absolutely no excuse for not getting enough sunshine. During your lunch break, roll up your sleeves and go outside for 20 minutes. Feel the sun on your face and let your Vitamin D tank fill up. If you’re reading this in Pennsylvania or Minnesota, I will just encourage you to be creative. Maybe see if your local tanning salon has a red light booth. I’ve heard some really compelling testimonies about red light therapy for fighting the blues, and that’s not just a play on words.
Fatigue can make small problems seem huge. It can make all your fears seem life-threatening and your pain seem unbearable. It amplifies feelings of sadness, moodiness, and irritability. Make yourself sleep. And just laying in bed all day is not necessarily sleeping. In fact, laying around all day contributes to insomnia, hopelessness, and depression, and then you can’t sleep all night. Vicious cycle.
We’re going to cross over from the physical aspects of depression into the metal and emotional aspects of depression. At the crossroads is stress.
Related to sleep is managing your stress. If you are up all night because of emotional turmoil, anxiety, or anger, it can foul up your sleep for days. Circadian rhythms are powerful energy regulating systems your body uses, but they are fragile. The more consistent your sleeping and waking cycles, the better you feel, physically and emotionally.
Unmanaged stress is harmful to you on several levels. Feelings of anxiety and pressure are just symptoms (and triggers) of the electrochemical stew that is brewing in the stressed mind. Adrenaline and cortisol are important neurotransmitters that control the “fight or flight” reflex system that has kept humans alive in the midst of danger since time began. However, they are meant to be used in short bursts. As I’ve mentioned here before, if you leave the adrenaline and cortisol faucets on all the time, they gradually eat at your organs like acid. They also leave deposits in your fatty tissues. Your “beer gut” may actually be a “stress gut.” And if you don’t control them, eventually, you will explode all over everyone and make everything worse.
Don’t explode. Manage it.
Fixing the Problem Is Not Always Enough
It’s not enough to just solve the problem that is causing you stress. Why? Because eventually, there will be another problem that causes you stress. If you spend your life getting stressed out and relieving the stress, it will deplete your resolve over time. You will begin to feel defeated and hopeless, with less energy to rise from each low place. You will give up more quickly and stay down longer.
You know this is true because you’ve been through it. You see it all around you when people say, “why fight it?” or “why get up when I’ll just get kicked down again?” This is depression.
You have to address what you believe in your heart of hearts. If you believe that things are not going to get better, you give up. It’s only natural.
But let me ask you this: WHY do you believe things will not get better?
We need to get past your memory of specific events and get down to the root of the pain.
Imagine your mind is a courtroom and you are the judge. What evidence are you allowing into your mind that convinces you to make a judgment that things will not get better? What evidence are you excluding that things COULD get better? Why are you excluding it?
People are people; they have shortcomings and flaws. They make bad choices at times. Sometimes they mean to be spiteful. But other times, they don’t. They don’t know what negative effects their words or deeds are having on others. Your anger against the person(s) who hurt you might not have anything to do with them. It might be that your perception of their behavior triggered a dormant hurtful memory from your childhood.
Let me repeat that so you see it: It might be that YOUR PERCEPTION of their behavior triggered a dormant hurtful memory of your childhood – something they weren’t even involved in.
Time For A Decision
You have a choice to make now: you can choose to keep a record of all the times people have hurt you, disappointed you, acted maliciously toward you, and on and on. Or you can choose to forgive and wipe the slate clean. You can choose to forgive.
You might think we are stepping into the spiritual side of your life here — and I suppose you can make a case for that — but this is an act of your will. You choose to keep score or you choose to let it all go. If you hold onto a record of wrongs so that you can personally ensure that justice is meted out on everyone that has hurt you, I have bad news for you.
Some people will never feel sorry for what they have done to you. They don’t remember, they don’t care, and they don’t feel they owe you anything. So all your bitterness and resentment is destroying your health, and it isn’t hurting them in the slightest. Unforgiveness is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die.
Let it go. For your sake.
The Emotional Drives The Physical
Your hurt and anger are unleashing a flood of negative neurotransmitters into your bloodstream, and they are deteriorating your health, stressing you out, making you physically sick, and causing your depression.
Yes, I said it.
When you’re dealing with depression, hopelessness, anxiety, anger, rage, or just the blues, it’s time to get down to the root.
- Your behaviors are based on your feelings, no matter how logical you might think you are.
- Your feelings are based on your beliefs, whether they are true or not.
- Your beliefs are based on your experiences — how you perceived them.
Said another way, your experiences establish your beliefs. Your beliefs determine how you feel about everything you experience, and your behaviors are chosen based on how you feel.
Do you see the never-ending cycle? And it all draws its energy from a belief you formed when you were a child. You need to ask yourself these questions: when was the first time I remember feeling this way? What happened? Who was there? What did I think they did?
Then you have to choose to forgive.
Forgiveness Touches Every Part Of You
I know I’ve been over this before here, but I’m more convinced than ever that much of our physical pain is linked to bitterness in the soul because of something we have refused to forgive.
Much of our lack of joy during the holidays is tied to refusing to forgive someone who hurt us or disappointed our expectations. That’s the emotional side.
Our negative feelings release the cascade of neurotransmitters in our bodies. That’s the physical side.
And unforgiveness locks up our prayer lives. That’s the spiritual side.
Once you get stuck in that spiral, the only way out is to choose to forgive. I’ll show you how here.
You can have the joy back in your holidays. You can actually help your body heal sickness by shutting off the flow of negative neurotransmitters. You can restore the peace and happiness in your relationships. You can laugh and have fun again.
I think we’re going to see more and more research pointing to a link between dementia and unforgiveness, similar to the research showing the linkages between unforgiveness and cancer.
Plus, it just ruins your holidays.
God is real.
God is really listening.
Cultivating a relationship with Him might be the best thing you ever do, and He is waiting for you to accept His invitation. He’s been reaching out to you all along, but you maybe couldn’t hear it. Life is noisy. I understand.
He still has the power to heal a broken heart, a broken relationship, and a broken body. Forgiveness is a choice you make with your mind, but it determines the health of your spiritual life.
Let’s Talk About Your Wellness
I want to see you experience wellness in EVERY area of your life, not just your spine. If you live in the Naples area, I hope you’ll stop by my office behind the YMCA on Pine Ridge Road and make an appointment. Let’s talk about your health goals and develop a plan to achieve them that includes your body, soul, and spirit. No spooky religious stuff, just health, and wellness on every level.
In the meantime, I bet you know someone who is fighting the blues this holiday season. Would you take 8 seconds to help me reach them by sharing this article on your favorite social media channel? You might be shocked at who is looking for this right now.
“At the end of your FEELINGS is NOTHING. At the end of your PRINCIPLES is a PROMISE.” — Eric Thomas