The Power of Giving & Thanks
Written by Michele Dial, M.Ed., LPC
As much as I love summer, the holiday season is probably my favorite time of year. For me, it’s a time for family gatherings, celebrating time-honored traditions, and connecting with friends near and far. The good food and warmth and laughter I share with friends and family bring me so much joy. As the resident gratitude ambassador, this is my time of year. I’m thankful year round, but this season brings about a greater sense of reflection on what I have instead of what I don’t have. And how I can turn something seemingly unwelcome into something valuable.
Sadly, the holiday season is a totally different experience for some people. In addition to depressive symptoms that can emerge with the change of weather and season, many folks associate the holiday season with great loss and emptiness. For some, loneliness feels heavier, sorrow becomes palpable, and the goal is often just to make it through this “cheerful” season in one piece. There is something about being surrounded by the one thing we don't have that magnifies its absence. Whether it’s joy, success, or friendship, a loved one you lost, or one you haven’t met, or someone right in front of you who feels oceans apart, the ache often intensifies when everyone else is celebrating life, love, and family. I hear you.
When it comes to depression, whether it’s situational (i.e. loss of a loved one, a job, etc), seasonal (Seasonal Affective Disorder), or pervasive (Major Depressive Disorder), one major component of relieving symptoms is taking ACTION. This idea may seem completely counterintuitive since depression zaps motivation. That’s why depression is somewhat of a self-actualizing disease – it seeks isolation and apathy. Those components then deepen depression, which heightens and perpetuates isolation and apathy. And thus the downward spiral continues. Taking action, often through sheer grit, is a key strategy in breaking the cycle.
How do I do that?
Harness Your Power ~ Oftentimes, depression, grief and loneliness can leave us feeling helpless. The automatic response to a sense of sadness may be to lean into it and follow it down the rabbit hole to a dark place. When you feel that downward spiral start up, you have the power to bring it to a halt. A visual image of a stop sign of putting your foot on the brake can help make that option tangible. An active approach to passive (and pervasive) inclination is key.
Choose the Positive ~ When you are in a room full of people, or even just a few, who are seemingly enjoying themselves or are at least content, a sense of aloneness and detachment can be amplified. In these moments, we have choices. It may not seem that way, but we do. Instead of turning inward, try reaching out and connecting with the people around you. Instead of shining a light on what you are missing, turn the spotlight to the good in the room and embrace those aspects of your present.
Volunteer / Give ~ Giving of our time, talents, and other resources is great way to shift perspective. Depression and grief have a way of drawing our focus inward to our suffering. Caring for the needs of others can take us outside of that narrow focus on ourselves. Even brief reprieve from our pain can lighten the load and help reinforce our resilience.
Make a List ~ Identifying reasons to feel grateful is important, but can be glazed over absentmindedly. Putting in the time and physical energy to write out a list engages us through multiple senses, which is more immersive and memorable than mental lists. I know these good things don’t change your reality. But exerting the effort to divert attention to good can remind us that there is more to life than the pain that sometimes seems to fill the space around us.
Acceptance ~ It has been said that nothing lasts forever. The people/pets/jobs/homes in our lives are often only ours for a season. We cannot undo history or go back in time. Oftentimes, we fight against the change that has taken place. Acceptance is not agreement. Or forgetting. Acceptance is the willingness to tolerate discomfort and relinquish the fight to change things that are beyond our control. Acceptance can usher in a sense of relief that allows us to breathe again. And allows us to remember the good without being weighed down by the pain.
We wish you wellbeing and peace now and always. If you’re struggling this holiday season, we are here to help.