The FGH’s for Coping with Christmas Anxiety and Depression

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By: Sharon Collignon 

The Christmas season is upon us!  It’s a time we are meant to be filled with wonder, hope and joy.  But, if I’m being totally honest, I’m feeling a bit melancholy, empty and agitated. If you are being honest, how are you feeling?  Are you filled with the wonder of the season or with the dread of days filled with crowds, busyness and conflict?  

I hope that you are experiencing joy, but if not, I hope this post will be helpful.  Previously, I released the ABC’s for Coping with Christmas Anxiety and Depression and it resonated with many.  Continuing on through more of the alphabet, I now offer the FGH’s for Coping with Christmas Anxiety and Depression to help you navigate through the season.  My hope is that your heart will be encouraged and that you may know the Prince of Peace this season.

F is for .. Face Faulty Strategies

Picture the scene — You arrive at the festive Christmas activity and the room is filled with delicious aromas, colorful lights, joyful music, and a crowd of merry people.  As you make your way through the gathering you assess your friends and family.  There’s Joe who is still angry about the election…Aunt Sue clearly has had too much eggnog….David and Cathy are fighting again…..Pat wants to be the center of attention….and on it goes.

Scenes like these can trigger us and set our faulty coping strategies into play.  We all have our faulty strategies.  Some will become passive aggressive or even combative.  Others will overindulge with alcohol, food, sex, etc.  Some may turn to self condemnation and harm.  Many others will just shut down.  

When we know and face our faulty strategies, we are able to repent and choose healthier coping skills.

All of these tactics can lead to added anxiety and depression so it is important to face our faulty strategies. They also keep us from loving and being loved well.  When we know and face our faulty strategies, we are able to repent and choose healthier coping skills.  To help you manage stress and anxiety in a healthy way, become familiar with good coping strategies so that you may better navigate scenes like the one above.  Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • Turn to someone you trust to share your struggle.
  • Pay attention to what you are feeling.
  • Practice centering exercises such as deep breathing, mindfulness and meditation.
  • Nourish yourself well with healthy food, lots of water and plenty of rest.
  • Find humor where you are able.

Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life. (Ps 139:23-24 NLT)

G is for … Give Gentleness and Grace

When I am stressed or feeling down, I desire kindness and understanding from those around me.  But I often forget that they are in the midst of their own complicated feelings.  My day filled with activities, crowds and expectations bumps up against theirs which can lead to snide comments, nasty looks, and demands for what we desire.  

But what if I give to others what I want?  I desire (and need!) gentleness and grace — just like they do.  I don’t always want to give others what I need, but when I choose to offer words of encouragement and kindness, something freeing happens.  Emotional generosity changes the scene and creates an opportunity for my spirit and theirs to be lifted.

I love the way Jesus explains this concept to His followers:  “Don’t pick on people, jump on their failures, criticize their faults—unless, of course, you want the same treatment. Don’t condemn those who are down; that hardness can boomerang. Be easy on people; you’ll find life a lot easier. Give away your life; you’ll find life given back, but not merely given back—given back with bonus and blessing. Giving, not getting, is the way. Generosity begets generosity.” (Luke 6:38-39 Msg)

Give gentleness and grace today.  When we give what we ourselves need, we may receive it in return.

H is for … Have Fun

When was the last time you had a good belly laugh?  The kind that is a bit uncontrollable, hurts your cheeks, makes you snort and causes tears to roll down your cheeks?  If it has been a while, then you are missing out on a fun antidote for stress!

Play is a vital tool for stress management.  Fun and laughter decrease stress hormones, increase immunity and releases endorphins (the body’s natural feel-good chemical).  Proverbs 17:22 tells us that a joyful heart is good medicine — when you engage in fun activities, it changes your body chemistry and can make you feel lighter.

A joyful heart is good medicine – when you engage in fun activities, it changes your body chemistry and can make you feel lighter.

If, however, you are in a season of grief and sorrow, fun and laughter likely seem distant and foreign.  That is okay — honor the season you are in. But if you are able, I encourage you to engage in activities that may allow a bit of fun.  As you gather with friends and family, share stories and fond memories of those you love, impart fun Christmas traditions to the next generation, play games, sing songs, etc.   It could be the medicine that your soul needs.

A time to cry and a time to laugh.  A time to grieve and a time to dance. (Eccl 3:4 NLT)

I is for … Illusion of Control

Someone I love, I’ll call her Joan, would get her Christmas shopping done early, diligently wrap the gifts and then hide them away in the attic. Little did Joan know, each year her son located the presents, carefully unwrapped them to see what was inside and then expertly rewrapped them to their original condition.  Joan did all that she could to surprise her kids with terrific gifts — but because she could not manage all of the factors, she was unable to control the outcome.  

Admit it — we all like to have some measure of control.  Holidays can intensify that desire because the media is filled with images of perfect families in beautifully decorated homes, eating chef quality food and exchanging ideal presents.  Attempting to achieve perfection means that we must expertly manage and direct the people and circumstances in our lives.  Our attempts to control things often lead to added frustration, disappointment and exhaustion which then fuels anxiety and depression.

But please hear this: Control is just an illusion.  Like Joan, we can plan and execute our intention, but we can’t know the choices of those around us. It is impossible to control every variable necessary for a given outcome.  If we give up our illusion of control, we are better able to accept the choices of others and embrace the reality of our imperfect lives.  Surrendering our demand for control can reduce our anxiety and depression.  And it frees us to discover the rest and peace that comes with continued dependence on God’s wisdom and love.

If we give up our illusion of control, we are better able to accept the choices of others and embrace the reality of our imperfect lives.

Foolish dreamers live in a world of illusion; wise realists plant their feet on the ground…..The Fear-of God is spring of living water so you won’t go off drinking from poisoned wells.  (Pro 14: 18, 27 MSG)

J is for … Journey Together

Earlier this week, I was feeling emotionally and spiritually depleted. It’s a few weeks before Christmas — a time for wonder, hope and joy —  but all I could feel was blah. So I spent time at a nearby retreat center and I hiked, talked with God, and sat in His presence. It felt like a journey. I arrived heavy-hearted but God joined me and kept me company on the journey and as a result I felt deeply nourished and loved. We journeyed together.

Our life journey is not meant to be walked alone.  Jesus stepped out of heaven, to walk the journey with us and for us.  God created us for relationship so if we live outside of that design we will likely feel anxious and depressed.

Think about the 33-year journey that Jesus had here on earth.  He modeled relational connection for us. There were times He went off alone to be with His father and there were times when He enjoyed those on the journey with Him. He celebrated with his community at wedding feasts; He treated His mother with love and care; He had close friends to pray, work and play with; He spoke with and cared for those around Him, and so much more.  He walked His earthly journey with His family and friends — in other words, they Journeyed Together.  Consider the relationships God gave you for this journey — what might you learn from His example?

In the days leading up to Christmas, reflect on His humble arrival in a manager.  He is with us — loving us, encouraging us, teaching us, laughing with us — journeying with us.

The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood. We saw the glory with our own eyes, the one-of-a-kind glory, like Father, like Son, Generous inside and out, true from start to finish. (John 1:14 MSG)

I hope that these FGH’s are helpful to you.  If your sadness and stress are overwhelming to you this Christmas season, please reach out to a friend or counselor and let them help you through the struggle.

May your Christmas be blessed with knowledge of His presence and His peace.

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Sharon Collignon has a small counseling ministry where she cares for the hearts of women. Her empathetic approach encourages growth and healing through exploration of personal stories in the context of God’s grander story. Sharon has been married to Ken for three decades and together they raised two delightful young women, Taylor and Sydney.

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