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December 19, 2013

Does the red and green of the season make you blue?

JACKSONVILLE — The Christmas holidays are awash in reds and greens, but for some, splashes of the blues are strewn throughout as they deal with depression.

However, said retired licensed psychologist Sam Hopkins of Jacksonville, it isn't that the holidays trigger depression, but rather, the contrast of festivity and merriment highlight an existing condition.

“One of the concerns (the medical community) had was whether, in face, Christmas celebrations contributed to increasing the amount of depression,” he said. “Apparently, it does not, but what it does do is expose how pervasive the problem is, anyway – because of the merriment of the season, it causes people who suffer with depression to become more apparent in that they can't join in with all the fun, so we become conscious of how many people who suffer with this.”

Psychologically, he added, “depression is like the common cold, in that a lot of people get it. Most of the time, it's transient, but like a cold, when you've got it, you feel bad.”

And like a cold, a person needs to know that they will move through that period, “because if it's persistent, then you've got  a problem that's going to need some therapy and perhaps anti-depressant medication” to foster healing, Hopkins pointed out.

Being able to differentiate between an ordinary reaction to bad things is important, because a person would be able to detect if something is more seriously wrong, he added.

“Some of this is ordinary,” as with grieving, and support “will get you through it, like a winter illness. However it could get worse; it could grow into pneumonia, and that's when you need special help,” he said.

The Mayo Clinic website offers tips for coping with depression and holiday-related stress, suggesting that “being realistic, planning ahead and seeking support” can make a huge difference in how your holiday goes.

First, suggests www.mayoclinic.org, acknowledge feelings of grief. Hopkins says many churches – like his home church, First United Methodist – offers a “Blue Christmas” program that gives people a supportive environment to express their grief.

Another suggestion is to reach out, the website says.

Hopkins agrees. “At a time when you want to shut down, it's the very time people need to help you get involved … giving has a tonic effect, if only because it gets the focus off ourselves,” he said.

“Not to get too sentimental, but maybe love is the answer, and the act of loving others is good for us,” Hopkins said. “This is probably the hardest thing for someone who is depressed to know, but at the point they start caring for somebody else, they in fact will receive care. The bonding with others supplies them with support.”

Father Mark Kusmirek of Jacksonville's Our Lady of Sorrows Church agreed.

“I would suggest to someone to look at these days of Advent (the period leading up to Christmas) as a time of (spiritual) preparation,” which may help relieve the pressure of busyness that is associated with the season, he said.

“Small things can make a huge difference – like keeping an Advent wreath in the house, or the blessing of a nativity scene in your home … take a moment to ask God's blessing” as you contemplate the story of the holy couple's journey, he said.

“The story of the nativity is not a happy story when you read it … the nativity is truly a test of faith, and from our perspective as Christians, we are able to look at the beauties that lead up to Christmas,” the priest said, describing there is peace to be found in the story. “(We understand) that God can be trusted, that he fulfills his promise to us.”

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