“Hi. My name’s Suzanne, and I had a lousy Thanksgiving.”
It was Black Friday and I felt like I needed to join a holiday recovery support group. I was far from my family that year and had bounced around to a couple of “friendsgivings” that had only served to remind me of my single status. As I clicked on the Hallmark Channel and made my third cup of coffee, I felt lonely, listless, and discouraged.
Many of us have our own tales of holiday woe: stressful get-togethers or maybe the opposite — no get-togethers. I once found a discarded turkey in the frozen pizza aisle Thanksgiving week, and I knew exactly what that pitiable shopper was thinking; the holiday season offers the promise of connection, love, peace and joy — but sometimes the reality looks like a frozen pizza.
Holiday blues are real. This time of year can bring with it feelings of stress, anxiety, depression and loneliness. Chilly weather and less daylight exacerbate these emotions. And for those who have lost someone they love, Thanksgiving and Christmas can be a mixed bag of joy and grief.
From grumpiness to gratitude
Mental health experts report that one of the best ways to overcome holiday depression is through gratitude. One study conducted by Dr. Bryan Sexton, Associate Professor in Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Duke University’s School of Medicine, showed that practicing gratitude could increase resilience and reduce stress. As part of the study, Dr. Sexton had participants end each day by writing down three good things from that day. A “good thing” might be an unexpected gift, a good conversation, a small victory, or a favor received. The results were telling.
The study’s outcomes showed that those who consistently wrote down three to five things for which they were grateful reported improved mental health, even if they did so for only 12-15 weeks. Additionally, these improvements can have long term effects.
The Bible makes no secret of the power of gratitude to stay emotionally grounded and work through discouragement. A friend of mine calls this the “power of praise.” Consider just a few verses that talk about thankfulness:
“Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (1 Thessalonians 5:18)
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” (Philippians 4:6)
“And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful.” (Colossians 3:15)
An attitude of gratitude
Gratitude should be a natural part of life, running parallel to anxious, stressful moments. If you’re more prone to negative emotions during the holidays, find ways to practice more gratitude. Along with making the “Three Good Things” exercise part of your evening routine, consider these other thankfulness practices:
Say thanks. During this season, think of a few people for whom you are grateful: a friend, a family member, a teacher or mentor. Write a thank-you note or email to each. Not only will you be a blessing, but focusing on the people God has put in your life can result in heightened thankfulness.
Meditate on Scripture. Read a verse about gratitude each day of the holiday season. (Here is the list I used to find the verses above.) Read a verse, then write it on a card or in your journal. Consider how you might apply it to your life.
Learn to recognize the blessings. An old hymn says, “Count your blessings, name them one by one, count your many blessings see what God hath done.” When I discipline myself to see God’s blessings, even in hard seasons, my perspective is transformed. Often, I see how He has carefully orchestrated small details to provide and care for me. Keep a running list of blessings during the month of December and watch it grow.
I wish I could say I’ve gotten past my holiday malaise, but I still struggle at times. However, living with a grateful heart can make all the difference. As I concentrate on all the Lord has provided and done in my life, I can experience true peace, joy and contentment.
Copyright 2022 Suzanne Hadley Gosselin. All rights reserved.