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Hurting During the Holidays

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I love the sights, sounds, and smells of the holidays. The great food, the holiday shopping, the time with friends, and some wonderful family traditions– all these make this time of year special for me. But the holiday season can also be a dreaded time of year for me. It’s dreaded because I know at some point during the season, I’m going to find it difficult to celebrate. Like many others, I am going to struggle with the “holiday blues.” In this blog I hope you will see the reality of the holiday blues–what it is and what causes it. Then, in a follow-up post, I want to talk about how you can minister to others as they struggle through it.

So what are the holiday blues?

The Holiday Blues

The holiday blues are feelings of anxiety, sadness, or loneliness that occur during the holiday season. For some, the holiday blues are as minor as a generalized state of sadness, nervousness, discontent, or stress. But, for others it can escalate to depression, prolonged isolation, and even debilitating thoughts of suicide. People experiencing the holiday blues will often sleep an inordinate amount of time, avoid social contact, and have periods of conflicting emotions.

Why do people experience the holiday blues? The causes can be as varied as those who experience it. Financial pressures from the high costs of the holiday season often result in stress and anxiety. Stress brought on by extended family visits or family dysfunction can bring about a dread of the holiday season as well. For many, grief from the loss of a loved one is a painful reminder of what could have been. For some, unrealistic or unmet expectations are brought into focus during the holidays. As they observe the happiness and celebration of others, they are reminded of the disappointments in their own life.

From Personal Experience

For me, the sadness stems from the loss of my brother. At the age of 19, Kevin died unexpectedly from a seizure, and his death forever changed my family. His birthday is December 6th and the anniversary of his death is December 13th. So, despite all the wonderful things to celebrate as Christmas approaches, I find myself slipping into the doldrums as I contemplate what life would be like if he were here. I know that he is in heaven worshipping Jesus, but I have an earthy longing to see him and celebrate the season with him as we once did.

The Gift of Others

In When the Darkness Will Not Lift, John Piper writes,

“For most people who are passing through the dark night of the soul, the turnaround will come because God brings unwavering lovers of Christ into their lives who do not give up on them.”

Chances are, you know someone who experiences the holiday blues every year, and you didn’t even know it because they are suffering in silence. They are hurting and are afraid to tell anyone. They feel the necessity to put on a good face because that’s what they think is expected of them. But, when they are alone, they are hurting. Your awareness of their hurt will go a long way in your ability to minister to them during this difficult time. Your sensitivity to them and willingness to walk with them in their hurt will be a welcome relief that they will remember for many years to come.

Tate Cockrell is the Assistant Director of Doctor of Ministry Studies and Associate Professor of Counseling at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, NC. He also serves as the Associate Pastor of Counseling over Recovery Groups at The Summit Church in Durham, N.C. He and his wife, Wendy have three children – Tatum, Preston, and Spencer.
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