How to Beat the Christmas Blues; Imagination, Planning and Concern for Others Can Spread Holiday Cheer

Article excerpt

Christmas season is here again, and you're at the end of your rope. You haven't planned your Christmas dinner and you haven't done your holiday shopping. You've waited until the last minute and now you're anxious, stressed out, or even depressed. Perhaps you can't afford expensive gifts this year. Maybe you're depressed because you have no one special to spend Christmas with. And maybe you fear the holiday won't live up to your expectations.

Cheer up! You're not alone.

You, like millions of others may be experiencing a bad case of the Christmas blues, also known as seasonal depression. A common phenomenon, seasonal depression is a mood disorder that can begin days, weeks or even months before the holiday arrives, as people begin to anticipate the stress this season can bring.

Seasonal depression may strike single, elderly and divorced individuals-people for whom the holiday is a painful reminder of their loneliness. Men and women who have a tendency to wait too long to complete holiday tasks become the most frequent-and exceptionally harried-victims.

Faced with the many duties that come during the holidays, Christmas blues sufferers sink into depression and may remain that way until the holiday partying comes to an end. Seeing the excitement and happiness of others often intensifies their feelings of isolation, and those who lack the holiday spirit may begin to wonder why they, too, are not eager to celebrate Christmas.

Many Black people who develop symptoms of seasonal depression, as well as those who experience other kinds of emotional disorders, fail to seek help. Experts say Blacks often choose to live with grief or deny that problems even exist, rather than seek psychological counseling, because many feel that these options are reserved only for Whites. But, warns Dr. James Jackson, a psychologist and director of the Afro-American Mental Health Center at the University of Michigan, seasonal depression, and other unresolved psychological disorders, can lead to more severe problems-and even suicide.

"We [Blacks] tend to think of ourselves as a strong and competent people, but we are just as likely to suffer from depression as any other group," says Dr. Jackson, who adds that many social service organizations offer psychological counseling at low or no cost for the poor. "When our problems become too difficult to bear, we need to know that there is help available and we need to seek this help."

In some cases, seeking help means discussing loss, grief, fear and other anxieties with family members. James Brown, 38, who lives in Brooklyn Center, Minn., with his wife and two children, says that for years, his family would hold Christmas celebrations at his mother's home in Youngstown, Ohio. Since her death last May, the Browns have discussed how the remaining members of their family can develop a closer relationship. This holiday, the Browns will concentrate more on the Biblical meaning of Christmas and on family togetherness-something they've learned to cherish even more since their tragic loss.

"Realize Christmas isn't just about Christmas trees and giving and receiving gifts. It's about family, " emphasizes Brown, who recently purchased a van so he and his family can travel around the country to spend more time with other relatives. "On Christmas, I know that we will all miss her [his mother], but we will concentrate on how fortunate we are to have each other," he says.

Newlyweds Rob and Roberta Lewis of Philadelphia face a different holiday problem. The Lewises have a long list of relatives and friends they would like to buy presents for, but can't spend money they don't have. "I want to spend a lot of money on Christmas gifts, but the expense of the presents adds up," says Roberta Lewis, who is still paying off her college loans. "Now that we are married and trying to save money, we are going to have to be more realistic. We're sending cards this year. …