3 Triggers for Depression at Christmas By Dr. Michelle Bengtson



It’s that time of year…Stores are busy and parking lots full. Cards and letters stuff mailboxes, recounting happy days and well wishes for the days to come. Lights twinkle in neighbors’ decorated yards, and as you drive down the street you can see Christmas trees shining bright through living room windows. Crowded calendars tell of holiday events from Christmas parties to holiday concerts and tree lighting ceremonies. Music on the radio and in stores offer hopes of merriment, peace, and joy. Even normal television programming is usurped by shows about reindeers, snowmen, and families reuniting to live “happily ever after.” Yes, it is that time of year that is festive and bright.


But not everyone experiences “holiday cheer” during this time of year. For some, it is a very lonely and sad time. The holidays are not always a happy time for people, and depression is a very real experience for many. The incidence of depression often increases over the holidays for several reasons.


  1. Depression often accompanies unmet expectations. With the holidays come expectations: our expectations of others, our expectations of ourselves, and others’ expectations of us. The problem with expectations is that they leave room for so much disappointment because it’s impossible to live up to them. That only leads to negativity and defeat. One way to combat depression during the holidays is to release our expectations; Release our expectations on others and ourselves. By releasing our expectations of others and ourselves, we can more easily take things as they come, and enjoy the experience rather than wishing a different outcome. It shifts our perspective from the negative (focusing on what didn’t happen the way we wanted or expected) to the positive (focusing on the positive of what occurred).


  1. Depression often results from a faulty perspective. The holidays are considered a time of love and good will towards men. While Christmas is a season of giving, the commercialism of the holidays, however, can tend to perpetuate a faulty perspective with an unhealthy focus on ourselves—what we have, what we want, what we get. So this year, if you are feeling down during the holidays, be gentle and extend grace. Release yourself from the tyranny of commercialism’s message, and seek instead to discover who you can bless by your words, your time, and your presence. You will likely find yourself encouraged as well.


  1. Comparison is the thief of joy. During the holidays, there is a heightened tendency to compared who we are, what we do, and what we have with all those around us. We tend to compare our messy insides with their polished outsides and never measure up. Part of the problem with comparison is that you will always find others who have more, do more, and achieve more than you. On the other hand, you can always find others who have less, do less, and achieve less than you. In order to combat depression this holiday season, seek out those who are less fortunate than you. Serve them, give to them, love on them. It’ll change your perspective about your own lack and replenish the well-spring of your own joy.


So while there are other contributors to depression during the holidays, these are three we can do something about to pro-actively change our emotional experience during the holidays.


The key not just during the holidays but always is just as Colossians 3:2 encourages: Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.” As we do so, we have the mind of Christ, rather than a mindset prone to depression and self-pity.


Dr. Michelle Bengtson

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