Coping Through the Holidays

– by Marianne Welch-Salkind

Turkey. Baked Ham. Mashed Potatoes. Pie. Gifts. Family. Those images evoke memories filled with merriment or solace. Television programs and commercials display images of happy families celebrating the holidays seated around their large dining table, perfectly set with fine china and holiday décor. If you are lucky enough to have happy childhood memories, those memories are yours to keep. They are now part of the fabric that makes up your very being.

But for others, those memories are for story books only and can often evoke feelings of sadness, triggering depression with feelings of emptiness and loneliness. Or perhaps you do have happy childhood memories filled with loving family and yummy food, but now you are estranged from your loved ones.

The holiday season can trigger depression for a plethora of reasons. The most common reason is loneliness. People who are estranged from their loved ones, and isolated from their communities, often experience their sadness at its peak during the holiday season. Sometimes, like a cruel joke, their mind replays happy scenes from childhood celebrations, reminding them of the severity of their loss. The empty void they feel is most notable during those quiet days of “time off” from work or daily routines.

Ed Diener, a world leader in the field of research on happiness, found that happiness comes from a feeling of belongingness. Belonging to something larger than ourselves. Belonging to communities or in groups that are making a conscious effort to make their community better.

Diener’s research findings suggest those that value money, power and good looks are less happy than those that value compassion, cooperation and a willingness to make the world better. In his study, people that volunteered to help others less fortunate or that shared in a community created a sense of belongingness and were abundantly happier in their lives.

Here are six ways to begin to develop a sense of belongingness, brighten your mood and stave off those holiday blues:

  1. Avoid social media. Take a break and unplug. The media is saturated with “happy” family gatherings celebrating together.
  2. Volunteer at a soup kitchen. Soup kitchens often need extra help during the holidays due to the increase in number of people in need.
  3. Join others for a free hot meal. Local churches offer free holiday meals to those in need.
  4. “Adopt” a family for the holiday. Through programs, such as the Holiday Assistance Program at Lenape Valley Foundation, in Doylestown, you can receive a wish list of food and gifts for a family in need of help for the holiday. Lenape’s “elves” will wrap the gifts and deliver them for you.
  5. Reach out to a neighbor. Getting to know your neighbors is not an easy task in the suburbs. People with yards are less likely to sit out in front of their homes like they do in the city. This results in reduced opportunities to meet neighbors and develop a sense of community. So, take advantage of the holiday time off and spark discussions among your closest neighbors.
  6. Take a class. Find a class or other activity you can enjoy and maybe meet new people. Walk outside in nature or try a yoga class. Research shows exercising 20 minutes per day decreases depressive symptoms.

The benefits of developing a sense of belongingness are immeasurable. Caring for others and celebrating in someone’s joy helps increase one’s own sense of altruistic joy—happiness at the good fortune of others. It will have a profound change within yourself that will last all throughout the year.

Marianne Welch-Salkind, MS, LMT, LPC, is a licensed professional counselor and EMDR trauma specialist at Airmid Wellness and Counseling Center, located at 1260 Old York Rd., Warminster. For more information, call 215-293-0744 or visit AirmidWellness.com. December 2017

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