Most lawyers who are depressed have a hard time being productive. Work—and here I mean everything from preparing for depositions to arguing a motion in court to the kinds of “work” we assign ourselves, like reading a good book or planting a garden—is a chore to the depressed. It drains us, leaves us feeling as bad as before, physically worn out and emotionally depleted, instead of proud of ourselves and invigorated. Other people with depression seem to work very hard all the time, but there is little payoff for their efforts. As with so much of depression, there is a real chicken-or-egg question—is work so difficult because we’re depressed, or are we depressed in part because we can’t accomplish anything? And as with so many chicken-or-egg situations, we face a false dichotomy: the truth is, poor work habits and depression reinforce each other.
While most of us are so busy with doing that, we have little time for being, the days surrounding major holidays can feel especially overwhelming. Most of us seem to lose touch with our connection to the natural world until we experience a life-changing event that locks that moment down into the month or the season. “The Holiday Season,” with capital letters, is one of those markers that is meant to provide a space for reflection, wonder, and deep joy. Advertisers capitalize on our sentiment through advertisers using images of families or neighbors coming together to cheer up individuals who are portrayed as alone and lonely, if not downright abandoned.
Unfortunately, many lonely people do not have a cheering group of neighbors, friends, or families eager to surprise them with holiday lights, tins of cookies, or invitations to join them for a holiday meal. Loneliness and hopelessness can increase while images of altruistic concern and heartwarming moments seem to be the bar against which all holiday experiences should be measured.
Once the first day of winter arrives, the shortened days and decreased exposure to sunlight generate unexpected feelings of depression for many along with lethargy that comes from the resultant vitamin D production in the body. If you have experienced loss, heartache, or depression, the change in season can send you spiraling deep into a very dark place. Putting on a brave face for others can be especially difficult when the world is blasting us with images of group hugs and the memory of your final hug with someone you love is all that you can think about.
No matter what the cause of your holiday lows might be, here are ten tips that might help you cope during this season:
Don’t completely isolate yourself from other people. Social connection has great healing power – attend a faith-based service, even if you are not committed to a particular religion, just to experience the positive feelings of being surrounded by others.
Allow yourself space to acknowledge any losses, despair, or hurt you are feeling, but do not let yourself use the loss as an excuse to escape through alcohol or other addictive substances.
If a particular ritual is just too painful to try and continue this year, accept that there are limits to what you are capable of doing and forgive yourself for that.
Don’t allow yourself to use any holiday-related time off from work as an excuse to hide from the world – stick to as regular a schedule as you can.
Don’t binge eat or binge drink – while these may offer a sense of temporary escape, they are not healthy coping methods.
If you’re recovering from a broken relationship, it’s especially important not to dwell on the past, an imagined future, or thoughts of revenge. Make sure that your ex’s contact information is wiped from your phone to help you avoid any temptation to make any desperate attempts at reaching out.
If you’re recovering from grief at the loss of a loved one, create a special new ritual that honors the person who is no longer there. Light a special candle and offer a silent or spoken tribute to this person. Add a special decoration to your collection and display it in this person’s honor. Choose a special recipe that was always a favorite and prepare it each year – saying a special prayer in their honor before consuming it.
Reflect on what has brought the most joy to you during this season in past, happier years. Force yourself to engage in this aspect of the holiday with as much energy and commitment that you can muster. If it was the lights of the season, throw your heart into decorating your home with the lights that always brought a smile! If it was the cookies, bake your heart out – even if you aren’t the most talented chef, enjoy doing something that your loved one would have enjoyed seeing happen. If it was the carols and songs of the season, let the CDs, Sirius, or Pandora serenade the silence with the songs this person loved.
Remind yourself that at this time of year, the shortest day falls on the last day of autumn. Winter may bring the coldest weather, the deepest hibernation of animal life, the barren trees may stand out starkly against the winter sky, but remind yourself that once the first day of winter has arrived, the days are once again growing in length and the nights are beginning to shorten. This is a magic time when we can feel the change in the natural world on a very deep level. The feelings of depression or deep grief you feel may ebb and flow like a tide, but remind yourself that there is a natural rhythm in life and it truly is always darkest before the dawn.
Honor your feelings, but don’t allow yourself to get so wrapped up in despair or hopelessness that you retreat fully from the world around you. When we let ourselves get sucked into a place of abject despair and darkness, we are sacrificing the potential for joy that others might bring you – or that you, yourself, could bring others.
If your holiday season is a time of depression, grief, or hurt, know that you are not alone. Others also are suffering as the world blares entreaties to be “merry and bright,” but sadness and heartache are filling your heart. Keep active over this period, show up in life, and remind yourself that each day that you do, it’s one less day you’ve given depression the power to take from your life.
By Suzanne Degges-White, Ph.D., LPC, LMHC, NCC. Susan is professor and chair of the Counseling, Adult and Higher Education department at Northern Illinois University. She is a licensed counselor whose focus includes working with individuals and families facing transitions. Her academic research explores development over the lifespan with a strong focus on women’s relationships and women’s developmental transitions. She is currently president of the Association for Adult Development and Aging, a division of the American Counseling Association.
Blogger Liz Smith writes, “Depression can make it difficult to set emotional boundaries with people in your life. Many people I’ve met who suffer from depression, including myself, suffer from difficulties being assertive enough to look after their own emotional well-being but setting emotional boundaries is important in depression. One of the main reasons it’s so hard to be assertive about your emotional limits when you have depression is because of its pervasive effect on your self-worth. On those really awful, down days, the low self-esteem that comes with the depression makes it hard to consider yourself worth looking after physically, let alone emotionally.” Read the rest of her blog.
From Esperanza magazine, blogger Margaret Lanning writes, “Lack of motivation is probably the most difficult part of depression I continue to wrestle with. Trying to figure out how to get up and get moving is extremely challenging. It can make or break a day. When I feel apathetic, my senseless thought cycle starts with the notion that I need to choose to do something (clean the kitchen). Then comes immediate resistance (I don’t want to clean the kitchen), then the guilt trip (good mothers clean kitchens so the family can be healthy), then the compromise (I can have a bite of chocolate if I clean the kitchen), then the shut-down (but I still don’t want to clean, and I’ll probably eat the whole chocolate bar), then the self-punishment (I am a bad person because I’m still sitting here).” Read the blog.
During my depression, my world narrowed. I just didn’t want to go anywhere. My life was lived inside coffee shops, on the couch watching television, sitting in my office with the door closed. There was something deadening about this. In hindsight, I guess I felt that doing something else wouldn’t make a difference anyway.
I have learned over the years that nature is a powerful antidote to depression. Being in nature does make a difference. Maybe it’s because there is such power in nature. It’s always in motion, isn’t it? There isn’t any clinical depression in nature. Humans evolved from the natural world, not from concrete and office towers. One study found that a walk in a park or countryside reduced depression whereas walking in a shopping center or urban setting increased depression. This summer, I am going to reconnect with nature by taking my daughter on nature walks. During these times, I just want to let my incessant conversation with my depression go and let nature speak to me.
Ten percent of those diagnosed with seasonal affective disorder suffer symptoms at the brightest time of the year. The summer’s brutal heat, bright light, and long days can affect a person’s circadian rhythm and contribute to depression for the opposite reasons that winter conditions do. If you’re a Summer Hater, or just notice that your mood is affected negatively by the heat, here are some summer depression busters that may help you better tolerate these months — maybe even enjoy the
Blogger Therese Sibon writes: “Depression is a powerful energy lodged in your body. It can control your thoughts, moods and actions. It can control your life. Yet you are the one holding this energy. That takes effort and stamina. As depression threatens your existence, can you actually use it to enhance your life?” Read the Blog