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Why Am I Depressed During Such a Joyful Season?

Gina Smith

ginalsmith.com
Published Nov 22, 2023
Why Am I Depressed During Such a Joyful Season?

As a follower of Jesus, I want to be able to move forward into the season, live in the moment, and make the most of each day I have been gifted, but I also know I need to acknowledge all the things that might be causing sadness, process the emotions, see them as valid, and admit that life is hard! The realities of life can seem magnified during the holiday season in a culture where we constantly have images of idealistic holiday scenes passing before our eyes.

Lately, I’ve felt my battle with depression and anxiety has increased some. I have been pushing through and doing the next thing, but a couple of days ago, I stopped and took time to evaluate so I might be able to figure out what was triggering it. Finally, it hit me! “It’s the holiday season! I always battle depression and anxiety more during the holiday season!” 

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, about 1 in 5 adults suffer from depression or anxiety. The holiday season, in addition to this being the time of year when there are shorter periods of sunlight, can cause some of us to battle depression or anxiety even more. But there are other circumstances that can add to the list of reasons one might have a harder time during the holidays: 

-We might be missing loved ones who have passed away

-Some live far away from family and are unable to travel because of job-related responsibilities

-Financial stress and pressures might limit travel or gift-giving

-Parents of adult children miss their children who can’t be with them for the holidays

-Fractured family relationships often leave empty seats at the table

-Anticipating holiday get-togethers amidst conflict and difficult family relationships

-Having loved ones who are sick or battling disease, unable to be a part of celebrations 

There are numerous reasons why this time of year might be harder for some. As I spent time evaluating why I have been struggling, I was reminded that my father passed away a little over a year ago. The entire family dynamic has changed since he’s been gone, and it feels so strange. Both of my children are married, and we now share the holidays with two other families. I miss the days when they lived in our home and we were able to share the excitement of the holiday season as a family unit. My mom is 86 years old and has slowed down significantly. She is unable to do all the baking, cooking, decorating, and shopping that she did all those years I was growing up. My husband and I no longer attend the same church as our children. I miss going to church as a family and the traditional Thanksgiving and Christmas services that we attended. Nothing feels right, and I can find myself longing for the familiar. 

As a follower of Jesus, I want to be able to move forward into the season, live in the moment, and make the most of each day I have been gifted, but I also know I need to acknowledge all the things that might be causing sadness, process the emotions, see them as valid, and admit that life is hard! The realities of life can seem magnified during the holiday season in a culture where we constantly have images of idealistic holiday scenes passing before our eyes in every commercial on TV, when we scroll on social media, and even in the memories we hold in our heart – memories of years gone by can accentuate the changes that are constantly taking place in the world, in our lives, and in the lives of our loved ones.

So, what can we do when we battle depression during a season that is supposed to be joyful? 

Photo credit: © Unsplash/Jordan Bauer

1. Activity 

There are things I can do physically that help me when I am struggling with anxiety and depression. It doesn’t necessarily take it away, but it does help significantly. Exercising daily is so helpful. I use a treadmill, and I love to walk outside, weather permitting. Even if I don’t feel like it, when I force myself to be active in some way, it is such a big help. Trying to get adequate rest, working to eat healthy, and getting out of the house are all things that help to push me forward during difficult days. 

2. The Prayer of Lament

“The prayer of lament is the prayer for a suffering soul. It is our fight with our soul to remember that there is a future. In the book of Psalms, we see this type of prayer when the writer is facing very difficult circumstances. We see him crying out to God for deliverance from a particular difficulty, often listing his complaints, describing his suffering, and crying out to God for help.” (Quote taken from my book Everyday Prayers for Joy

In the prayer of lament, we are given permission to tell God how we really feel. It is a prayer where we cry out to God and even ask the question, “Why?” Go ahead. Tell him how hard this time of year is, that you are having a hard time seeing through the fog of depression and anxiety, that you miss your loved one, that you miss your kids who are grown, that the family conflict is stressing you out and that you long for reconciliation and peace, and that you don’t feel like celebrating. Tell Him that you often long for the past and that nothing feels normal. Pour out your heart to God. He has given you permission to do that.

The next step in the prayer of lament is to take time to remember. We can come to God with our questions and pour out our hearts to Him, but in a prayer of lament, there is an eventual choice to remember the truth of God’s character and his past actions as it is told in Scripture. As one author pointed out, “We choose to lay hold on the promises of God and cling to them despite the adversity that at times seeks to overwhelm us.” We will have to make this choice one day at a time, maybe even minute by minute.

Finally, the prayer of lament has a goal. After we are reminded of who God is and what He has done, God gently and lovingly challenges us to look ahead while clinging to His promises and the hope found in Him alone. Look at God’s Word and trace His faithfulness there, then take time to reflect on your life and trace His faithfulness in your own life. Read God’s promises to you in His Word and cling to the hope that is found there. Remembering his faithfulness and clinging to his promises can help you move forward and lift you out of the fog, focusing you on our only true and lasting source of joy.

3. Reach Out for Support and Community

Man crying in a support group

Photo Credit: ©iStock/Getty Images Plus/Drazen Zigic

One of the purposes of the body of Christ is to help bear each other’s burdens, strengthen each other in God, and help guide each other to truth. Your brothers and sisters in Christ can help guide you to seeing life through the lens of the gospel when you are having a hard time finding your way. Ask God to show you who is the best person/people to reach out to for help. He can work through His people to help bring you to a place of hope amidst your moments of depression and anxiety. 

Life is good…but life is HARD!

If we are given the gift of living a long life, we will inevitably face more loss, disappointment, and discouragement. It’s completely understandable that so many battle depression and anxiety. This is not the way that God originally meant life to be! Our bodies, souls and minds were not created to endure the kind of stress and hardship that we experience living in this broken world. But He is available to help us persevere and has instructed the Church to gather around one another and point each other to the cross. We are told in John 16:33 that “in this world you will have trouble,” but then he encourages his followers with this: “But take heart; I have overcome the world.” 

This world may not be what God originally had in mind for us to live in, but He has promised that those who believe in Him have so much more to live for than what we see and experience in this life. And we can have hope and joy, despite dark days, because of the Gospel. 

The Gospel in a Nutshell 

  • All of creation is under the curse of sin, and the result: death and eternal separation from God. God has given a lost and dying world good news: the Gospel of Jesus Christ!
  • The Gospel is the good news that “there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Romans 8:1
  • God loved the world and gave His only Son to die for our sins. John 3:16
  • Jesus Christ came into the world in human flesh to be the perfect sacrifice for sin and to make atonement, or “propitiation for the sins of the people.” Hebrews 2:17
  • Our salvation, eternal life, and our home in Heaven are guaranteed because of Christ’s death on the cross and His resurrection. 1 Peter 1:3-4; John 14:1-4.
  • We can’t earn our salvation. God has purchased our freedom, and we are no longer in bondage to sin. God declares the believer to be not guilty before God and therefore treated as holy. John 19:30; 1 John 2:2.
  • We were once enemies of God but have been reconciled by the blood of Christ and adopted into the family of God Romans 5:10; John 1:12; 1 John 3:1

We will find hope when we focus on the gospel. We will be able to move forward when we focus on the gospel. We can celebrate, even when we have a heavy heart when we remember that there is more to this life than what we are experiencing.

Gina Smith is a writer and author. She has been married for 35 years to Brian, a college professor and athletic trainer. For 25+ years, she and her husband served on a Christian college campus as the on-campus parents, where Brian was a professor and dean of students. They reside right outside of Washington, DC, and are the parents of two grown children, one daughter-in-law, one son-in-law, and one granddaughter. She recently authored her first traditionally published book, Everyday Prayers for Joy, which is available everywhere books are sold. You can find Gina at the following: Website: ginalsmith.com, Instagram, and at Million Praying Moms, where she is a writer.