Can you be a believer, follow Christ, be in community with God, and not be merry and bright at Christmas?
Many People Struggle With Holiday Blues
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, over 65% of people indicate that the holidays bring on the blues, and 55% of Americans struggle with holiday loneliness.
According to Cedars-Sinai psychologist Dr. Michael Wetter, the holidays don’t necessarily exacerbate depressive conditions specifically. Still, they do tend to create more stress. NAMI found that 51% of women have found Christmas stressful, compared to 35% of men. It is the resulting stress that can then trigger or exacerbate mental health conditions such as depression or anxiety.
I read all of this one morning while eating the rest of the Thanksgiving pumpkin pie, taking small bites, and working toward consuming the leftover half of the dish. Half of a WHOLE pie. With whipped cream. And I washed it down with a big glass of eggnog.
Now, while I usually would not shame myself or anyone for having a piece of pie for breakfast – I mean, all the good stuff we have for breakfast is in there: eggs, flour, milk – I honestly confess that this was excessive. And unnecessary. Gluttonous really. Which is a sin, I know. Thank you, Jesus, for covering my sins, past and future.
But while I might make light of my breakfast, it reveals a behavior that I revert to when stressed: Eating to excess. And it becomes more prominent during the stressful holiday season. Between September 1st and January 3rd, we have 6 birthdays, 1 anniversary, and 3 holidays. My life is in a constant state of hyper-awareness to the dates and times, not to mention our finances. Stress. And just as NAMI and Dr. Wetter diagnosed – the stress of the season brings out anxiety in me. And so I eat. A lot.
You Can’t Rely On Sunny Days
For many, though, like myself, it goes beyond the stress. The darkness of the season and living in New England, where the gloom begins November 1st and the sun rarely reappears before April 30th, envelopes me like a blanket. A wet, cold, gloomy blanket. And while I embrace the lights of the holiday season with little bulbs festooned all over the inside and outside of our house- even in the bathrooms- the twinkle of the strings does little to put the grey thoughts at bay. And as a Christian, this bothers me because it’s all about the birth of our Lord and Savior – I SHOULD be merry and bright. But my lack of merry and bright seems to be soothed by eating.
I often ponder why my go-to is food – and not God. Of course, I am Italian, and in our culture, food is LOVE. It’s not just a stereotype its reality. My grandparents raised me until I was almost seven years old. My grandmother hand-fed me my breakfast and lunch until I was nearly 5. The only reason she didn’t hand-feed me my dinner most nights was because my mother had come home from her job at the travel agency and was adamant that I feed myself.
Here is the thing I know: many people have the same challenge- when they feel stressed, they turn to food. When they are depressed, their comfort is food. I am equally challenged. But why does that bother me so much?
Because God is my Comfort and Joy. And yet I …what…forget?
It seems like food fills a God-sized hole in me, a hole that I subconsciously know is there but willingly avoid. Food is material; I can see, feel, touch, and taste it. It is often warm. It fills my belly and makes me feel weighted down, in a way assuring me that my anxiety won’t whisk me away. And physiologically, although I am not a scientist, it boosts all those good chemicals to make me feel happy. Merry and Bright.
Do This To Tackle Holiday Depression
So, this season, I am trying something new. I am attesting to it here so you all can hold me accountable: Whenever I am stressed, anxious, or feeling blue, and I turn to food (when it is not required), I will turn to God instead. I will open my bible app and listen to a devotional or a piece of scripture. I will put on worship music and, like David, dance around my room praising my God (although, unlike David, I will be fully clothed; nobody needs that trauma during the holiday- or any day for that matter!). I will put down the plate and pick up the platter of Comfort and Joy my Lord offers without expectation.
I invite you to join me. Whatever you are using to fill that hole, to bring about the Merry and Bright that is NOT Jesus, I challenge you to put it down and turn to God. Together, we will fill that God-sized hole with his love, praising the Lord in this season and always.