Thanksgiving and Holiday Depression Survival Guide

Thanksgiving and Holiday Depression Survival Guide

For some, the holidays can be the most stressful and depressing time of the year due to personal commitments and family expectations. Here’s how to survive and thrive under even the worst circumstances.

Holiday depression doesn't have to be the end of you. (Eric Ward/Wikimedia Commons)

HONOLULU, November 23, 2016 – This Thanksgiving, millions of Americans are suffering from depression, grief, stress, loneliness, and countless other emotional afflictions that rage largely unseen by their friends and family members.

Whether you’re a college student preparing for final exams, a single parent, a military spouse, or a working professional, if you’re feeling down around the holidays, you’re experiencing something that is increasingly common in today’s world. Our modern era, with all of its pressures and excessive expectations, easily makes for awkward, stressful, and disquieting holidays.

If only every American holiday table looked like a Norman Rockwell illustration in The Saturday Evening Post!

The good news, however, is that no matter how you feel right now, no matter the burdens facing you, no matter what you have done in the past or failed to do, you can turn your mindset and your life around.

Tip #1: Remember that failure in your life is not necessarily global.

Norman Rockwell's "Freedom From Want" portrays an American holiday experience that few actually enjoy. (National Archives and Records Administration/The Saturday Evening Post)
Norman Rockwell’s “Freedom From Want” portrays an American holiday experience that few actually enjoy. (National Archives and Records Administration/The Saturday Evening Post)

Working in elected politics and civil service for more than a decade, I’ve found that the most successful individuals are ones who are able to compartmentalize their life experiences. The ability to fail in one area of your life but continue forward momentum in other areas is critical to keeping your life in a perpetual state of progress.

There are some people who blow a tire on the way to work, show up late, and their entire day goes to pots because, in their mind, they believe that if they started the day with a flat tire, everything else in their life has to go flat.

There are other people who can go straight from blowing a tire to showing up late to being handed a poor job performance appraisal and then by noon that same day end up getting a promotion to a higher position. How is this possible? Well, for starters, you have to remember that your life is not a string of dominoes. Don’t allow one thing falling down to topple the other things in your life. Highly successful people discipline themselves to say, “Okay, I missed that one, but I won’t miss the next one.”

When the Apollo 13 spacecraft suffered an onboard explosion en route to the Moon, the astronauts and their NASA support controllers back on Earth focused on what was still good and working on the spacecraft. By focusing on the functional rather than the non-functional, the Apollo 13 mission was an inconvenience in that it never landed on the Moon, but it was a success with regards to the fact that all astronauts returned home safely. Don’t let inconveniences become failures in your life.

Tip #2: Find something to look forward to. If necessary, make something to look forward to.

Building on the previous tip, it’s also important to constantly animate your life with positive expectation. When doctors suspected that my mother had developed new cancer growths after almost eight years in remission, there was a grim, dark attitude among several of my family members that “this was it.”

Rather than fixate on matters that I couldn’t control, I decided to commit myself to things that were under my domain. If my mother was short on time, I figured I wanted to give her something to be proud of, so I decided to apply for a big new job, and I started an aggressive physical fitness regimen so that I could look my very best for my mother, perhaps giving her some hope.

Months later, it was discovered that the initial suspicions of doctors were incorrect, and my mother was still cancer free. On the other hand, I got the big promotion that I was looking for, I significantly improved my physical fitness, and three years later, my mother is still alive, healthy, and cancer-free.

Tip #3: Learn to identify and value people who add value to your life.

One of the most difficult aspects of our modern era is that more and more people are living alone or reporting feelings of loneliness and isolation. While a large part of this is due to changing social attitudes and shifting economic conditions, an aspect that many people don’t take into consideration is a lack of appreciation for the people we do have in our lives.

If you take a moment to look carefully, there is always at least one person in your life who adds some kind of value to your life. It doesn’t have to necessarily approach the level of a caregiver who watches after you when you’re sick, or a parent that gives you affirmation, or even a significant other who you can hold hands with.

There is always someone who stands out in everyone’s life as being helpful, kind, or accommodating that you can show appreciation for. Maybe it might be your office security guard who always says “Good morning, Sir!” with a smile when you step in the building every day. It could be an elderly woman on the bus that always nods at you during your morning commute. It might even be a random stranger who today does something exceptional for you. In all of these instances, showing appreciation and adding value to people who add value to you is a great way to foster strong relationships and healthy lives.

The best way to have friends in a time of need is to be a friend to someone.

Tip #4: Faith works.

As atheism proliferates in our Western world, people increasingly feel the pressure to “have their act together” because they believe that everything is on them. If they’re not strong enough, smart enough, fast enough, or cunning enough, no one will help them, because it’s a dog-eat-dog world. That type of attitude may work fine when you’re healthy, young, and at the top of your career, but when you’re sick, when nothing you do seems to work, when you have absolutely no way to advance or make any progress, believing that you’re all alone in the Universe is a terrible place to be.

In 1943, during the most troubling years of World War II, Franklin Delano Roosevelt told the White House Correspondents’ Association, “We have supreme confidence that, with the help of God, honor will prevail.” Faith, and its close partner, hope, are essential to making it through periods of your life where the number of things you can’t control vastly outnumber the things you do control.

Psalm 34:19 in the Amplified Translation says, “Many hardships and perplexing circumstances confront the righteous, but the Lord rescues him from them all.” In Matthew 9:13, the Gospel records Jesus as saying, “But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’” I have come to discover that in all situations, circumstances, and seasons of my life, no matter what, whatever is important to me is important to God. Faith that God is in control and hope that God can intervene personally on our behalf may seem ridiculous to some, but those of us who have come to see this divine force in action know that God is completely dependable.

Psalm 46:1 says, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” Later, in Romans 10:13, the Scripture says, “Whosoever shall call upon the Name of the Lord shall be saved” (KJV). I have made prayer and faith in God a central part of my daily life, and it has enabled me to escape every single failure, overcome every difficulty, and rise above every infirmity. Faith works!

Tip #5: Don’t over-extend yourself.

Last but most importantly, you must always know what you are capable of and the limits that exist on your life. One of the fastest ways to get burned out is to stretch yourself thin with too many commitments, unreasonable expectations, and timelines for execution that are impossible to meet. Be honest with yourself and others. Don’t be afraid to say “no” when you can’t do something, and don’t hesitate to limit your exposure to the world when you’re under pressure.

One of the hardest parts about the holiday season is coming into close contact with people that we would ordinarily not see during the rest of the year and feeling the pressure of having to do things or say things that we aren’t comfortable with doing. It’s good to challenge your comfort zones, but it can be unhealthy to push so far outside of your limits that you crack under pressure.

This Thanksgiving and holiday season, remember above all else that no matter what you’re facing, you can make it, you can take it, and you can do it. Nothing is impossible if you have the right mindset!

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Danny de Gracia
Dr. Danny de Gracia is a political scientist and a former senior adviser to the Human Services and International Affairs standing committees as well as a former minority caucus research analyst at the Hawaii State Legislature. From 2011-2013 he served as an elected municipal board member in Waipahu. As an expert in international relations theory, military policy, political psychology and economics, he has advised numerous policymakers and elected officials and his opinions have been featured worldwide. He has two doctorates in theology and ministry, a postgraduate in strategic marketing, a master's in political science and a bachelor's in political science and public administration. Writing on comparative politics, modern culture, fashion and more, Danny is also the author of the new novel "American Kiss" available now from Amazon.com.