Christmas is and should be a joyous time to celebrate the birth of our King and Messiah, Jesus Christ. He is the reason for the season, after all. But because of the way our western world has created such hype for holidays, we’ve learned to create traditions and expectations around them. They do come with nostalgia and excitement and anticipation. But they can also bring up past trauma, feelings of loneliness and loss, and emotions surrounding relationship conflict.
According to surveys led by mental health professionals, 64% of people say they are affected by Post-Christmas or Holiday Blues, and 24% say they’re affected quite a bit. I know this is true, I talk to a lot of you who are experiencing it to one degree or another. I’ve been on social media in some specific groups, and in the last few days after Christmas I’ve seen a lot of posts that would fall into this category of Post-Christmas Blues.
According to NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Health), these are temporary feelings of anxiety and depression that may appear due to extra stress, unrealistic expectations, or memories associated with the holiday.
There are many speculative reasons floating around. It could be due to the time change adjustment, alcohol consumption and overeating during the season, busyness, stress of financial burdens, and then throw in an individual’s personal circumstances or events, grief over the death of a loved one, loneliness, illness.
So, let me tell you my story and how the Post-Christmas Blues started to creep in.
Two of my adult children were with their significant others’ or in-laws’ families’ house for Christmas Eve and Christmas day. My youngest and his wife, as most of you know, live in Japan. So, there I was on Christmas Eve all by myself on my couch. I had planned to go to the Christmas Eve service at church but talked myself out of it thinking it would feel too awkward to go by myself. I’ve always loved going to the Christmas Eve service with my family. It’s a beautiful tradition. So, going by myself just didn’t seem right. I really wish I would’ve pushed my way through it, though, and gone anyway. But I didn’t. It’s funny how the brain can convince you to do something, or not do something, in order to stay safe. That’s exactly what my brain thought would happen by not going. Stay safe. The trouble comes when your brain thinks it is sufficient to cope or hide because, well, we’ve done it before and look, we’re still alive. So that option must be a safe one. Its reasoning was that if I went, I might have to face the emotions that might come up from being alone on a night that, as tradition goes, should’ve been shared with family. But what I ended up doing instead was sitting on the couch trying to convince myself that it wasn’t really Christmas Eve and dealing with the emotions of being alone. I was trying to pretend like it was any other night except Christmas Eve. And that, actually, Christmas Eve was the next night when my kids were coming over.
Now, I can’t tell you how many times since my husband passed away that I’ve said, “It doesn’t matter what day you get to celebrate together, as long as you get to be together. It doesn’t have to be on the actual day.” But listen, as much as I want to believe that to be true for me, I still had a lot of mind-management to do to keep from feeling sorry for myself. It was work. But I did it.
My kids came and we had a wonderful time together. They even all spent the night and we had breakfast the next morning together. It was delightful. And seriously I don’t think I’ve laughed that hard in a long time. So much fun.
And then they left. And here I sit with my brain again that wants to reminisce on the past and how things “should be”. And how they “shouldn’t be”. And why the experience should’ve been different. And how much better it would’ve been if Brian were here. Interestingly, these are some of the same messages by brain has been offering as optional thinking since he’s been gone. Discouraging messages that say that I’m only a fraction of the whole person I used to be when my husband was alive; messages that make me want to play small because I’ve been wounded so deeply. I’ve had to battle the messages that say mine is an overly complicated grief that will leave me crippled for a long, long time. Unable to stand with the strength and determination to use my voice and my experience to shine the light on the path for another’s healing. So many messages. This may not be your story per se, but I’ll bet you have your own that may be trying to worm its way into your current situation and steal your joy.
In last week’s episode, I mentioned that general malaise or melancholy is not a disorder. Melancholy is just one of hundreds of emotions or feelings available to us in this human experience. If this is how you’re feeling now, it’s okay. You’re allowed. Nothing is wrong with you.
The Post-Christmas Blues, again according to NAMI, are temporary feelings. They do warn, however, that these short-term problems should be taken seriously so as to not lead to long-term mental health conditions. And if you’ve been listening in for a while, you know that “taking these seriously” means to process the emotions so that you understand what are the thoughts that are making you feel that way. Every emotion we have is driven by a thought. If you’re not sure what that thought is, you can look to a particular event and ask yourself, “What am I making that mean?” And more specifically, “What am I making that mean about me?” That will usually give you the thought that’s driving the particular feeling. When you’ve found the thought, you can explore what the beliefs are that you have that support that kind of thinking. This is processing for awareness.
Because once you’re aware, you have a choice to make. You get to discover if what you’re thinking and believing is even true and then decide if you like thinking and believing that way. Then choose what to do about it. Stay there or make a shift.
Let me share with you a scripture I came across yesterday in the Message Bible. Galatians 5, verses 16 though 18 say, “Live freely, animated and motivated by God’s Spirit. Then you won’t feed the compulsions of selfishness. For there is a root of sinful self-interest in us that is at odds with a free spirit, just as the free spirit is incompatible with selfishness. These two ways of life are antithetical, so that you cannot live at times one way and at times another way according to how you feel on any given day. Why don’t you choose to be led by the Spirit and so escape the erratic compulsions of a law-dominated existence?”
This scripture is saying, “Don’t be led by your emotions. Don’t be yanked to and fro by the way you feel on any given day. Choose to be led by the Spirit.”
It’s right here that I’d love to point you all the way back to episode number 31 - What In The World Are You Thinking? That episode has all the good, foundational stuff about the brain to help you understand why you can choose to be led by the Spirit.
In your circumstances, whatever they may be, you can choose to be the victim of your circumstances or the victor that rises above it. But perceiving yourself in your story as a victim of such wrongdoing, or should or shouldn’ts, develops a pervasive and universal victim mentality. It’s where you frequently or constantly perceive yourself to be a victim in every area of your life. You are unable to see any other perspective of the story other than your harm or injury.
Listen to verses 19 and 20 of Galatians 5 in The Message, because this is describing what happens when we perceive ourselves to be a victim. This is how we end up acting when we think things should be different. Verses 19 and 20 say, “It is obvious what kind of life develops out of trying to get your own way all the time: a stinking accumulation of mental and emotional garbage; frenzied and joyless grabs for happiness, trinket gods; magic-show religion; paranoid loneliness; cutthroat competition; all-consuming-yet-never-satisfied wants; a brutal temper; an impotence to love or be loved; divided homes and divided lives; small-minded and lopsided pursuits; the vicious habit of depersonalizing everyone into a rival; uncontrolled and uncontrollable addictions; ugly parodies of community. I could go on.”
Whew. Aren’t you glad he doesn’t? But, listen, this is the truth. I feel it. Because feeling sorry for yourself and feeling like a victim makes you want to blame everyone around you, including the circumstances themselves, for how you feel. “They did this, he didn’t do that, this circumstance makes me “less than.” And now I can’t do xyz because…well because I’m a victim of this tragedy.”
Making a cognizant choice not to see yourself as a victim of your circumstances opens your mind to explore ways that you’re actually a victor: Resilient, capable, strong, overcoming, thriving. Someone in my Life Coaching circle asked me the other day, “How will you know when you’re successful?” I said, “I already am successful. To take the hand of my Heavenly Father, to overcome all the obstacles I have, to create something out of nothing, to try something new, to hope again, to say “yes” to another beautiful life. All of this is the epitome of success.” This is a story of a victor not a victim. And out of this new “victor” story, I will continue to find more and more evidence in my life that I can thrive, succeed, prevail, and overcome. It’s what the brain does best: create patterns of thinking. And this is the pattern I have chosen.
Now, when I go back to the original thoughts and what I made a particular event or situation mean… about myself…I now see it through the eyes of a victor. I see a strong woman who, with patience and kindness, shared the ones I love the most with other families who love them as well. Who refused to let the stinking accumulation of mental and emotional garbage pile up and rot. Who rejects cutthroat competition and comparison. And one who has learned to lean into Jesus when there’s a feeling of lack in my life, knowing that I am richer than most because of it.
Friend, what about you? Would you like to make a shift in the way you’re feeling right now, too? Start by naming how you’re feeling? What are the ‘feeling’ words? Sad? Insignificant? Unimportant? Angry? And, thinking on the circumstance or event, what are you making that mean about you? Process that. Is that thought true? Is the thought serving you well and leading to the life you love or away from it? Then choose. Choose to make a shift away from victim. Tell a new story where you are the victor. Rehearse it in your mind so it becomes the new pattern - the new way of thinking. The Post-Christmas Blues can be very temporary if you’re willing to attend to the thoughts that created the blue feelings in the first place and choose to live another beautiful life.
If you’d like some help shaking off those Post-Christmas Blues, I’d love to be your Life Coach and help you process your emotions and show you how to live another beautiful life.
I’ve put a link in the show notes for a free 30-minute call just so we can see if we’re a good fit to work together and show you how Life Coaching would work for you.
Also, don’t forget to get the free, downloadable guide that helps you work through this topic personally. The link is in the show notes.
Have a wonderful week, friends. See you next Wednesday for the next episode of Another Beautiful Life.