Thanksgiving and Christmas are supposedly times of good cheer—festive parties, the exchange of gifts, and family gatherings. But the holidays always used to give me the blues. They reminded me of things missing in my life, and I ended up with feelings of sadness that were hard to shake. Would my holidays ever compare to the idyllic scenes found in books, movies and television?
According to the National Mental Health Association, reasons for feeling blue around the holidays are many. They range from fatigue—a result of frenzied holiday activity—to financial limitations and family tensions. Experts say that, for people like me, one of the fastest routes to holiday depression is unrealistic expectations.
An excellent way to deal with holiday depression is to help others. “Volunteer your time this holiday season to help people who have less than you do,” said Dr. Hinda Dubin, associate professor of psychiatry at the University Of Maryland School Of Medicine. “Taking the focus off yourself can really make you feel much better. Not only can you help other people, but doing so will add a lot more meaning to your holiday season.”
This is good advice. A recent survey on the impact of volunteering on stress and depression, titled “Giving Time Beats Stress, Make a Difference Today,” found that more than half of adults 18 to 34 feel that volunteering helps reduce their feelings of stress. The study also found that over 60 percent of middle-aged individuals say volunteering helps them combat their depression. Don’t be surprised, then, if volunteering during the holidays also inspires you to make a difference all year long.
There are many places you can volunteer and live the spirit of the holidays. They include:
• Community theaters and museums
• Senior centers
• Service organizations, such as Lions or Rotary clubs
• Youth organizations
• Places of worship, such as churches or synagogues
• Homeless shelters
Among online resources, one of the most popular and useful sites is VolunteerMatch.org (www.volunteermatch.org).
If you find yourself feeling down for a sustained period this holiday season, despite your best efforts to remain upbeat, don’t try to tough it out alone. Besides exploring professional treatment options that could improve your outlook, consider how much you may help yourself by helping others.
Volunteering changed my own experience of the holidays from one of the most difficult times to one of warmth and connection. It gives me sense of purpose and a feeling of inspiration. I am a better person for it.
Sharon Fenster is a publicist and writer. Contact her at [email protected]