Millions of Americans dread the holidays. Leading up to Thanksgiving and Christmas, many people anticipate painful emotions and wonder whether they will be able to handle it.
The holidays are especially painful for people with relationship woes. There is no more acute pain than family pain. Many people have unresolved conflict with children, siblings and parents, conflict that can include divorce, estrangement, and unforgiveness.
Many people are dealing with deep feelings of loss, such as through death, an empty nest, or a relationship that's ended.
Others have difficulty managing the emotions of the holidays because of financial stress that stem from an inability to purchase food and gifts.
Whatever the source, sadness often bubbles to the surface during the holidays because it is during these times that we pause and take stock of our lives and realize they fall short of everything we'd hoped they would be.
It's important to recognize that the root cause of holiday stress and the holiday "blues" is unfulfilled expectations. And right on the heels of that realization, we must understand that our expectations are unrealistically high.
First, there is the media. The commercialization of Christmas is pure deception. We are bombarded with images of activities, relationships, and possessions that are complete fantasy...mostly with the end goal of selling something.
I recently saw a television commercial where one character gave a brand new car to the other. The car was actually sitting in the driveway with a big red bow on it. People who think the media accurately represents reality would naturally be depressed after seeing that commercial, because most people can't even come close to being able to afford a gift like that and would feel inferior as a result.
This is why it's important to remember the Christmas that's portrayed in the media is imaginary. That's not how real people celebrate Christmas.
Secondly, there are our own expectations that are unrealistic. Don't put pressure on yourself to do things, buy things, or feel things that are impossible. Dial it back several notches and focus on what Christmas really means.
Christmas is about our one and only avenue out of the certainty of eternal damnation and into life everlasting with God, characterized by love, joy, and beauty that we are incapable of even imagining.
Jesus came into the world to sacrifice himself for our sins so that we could be reconciled with God. If it weren't for Jesus we would have no hope whatsoever.
Our sin makes it impossible for God to accept us into heaven when we die. But Jesus, being perfect, God as man, paid our sin debt. Through Jesus, and Jesus alone, we have forgiveness from our sins, and through him, entrance into life everlasting.
No death, no tears, no sadness, no poverty, or loss -- there is only one way to have all that, and it's through Jesus. He came into the world to accomplish this amazing, loving act on a day we call Christmas.
By directing our minds toward the true meaning of Christmas we obliterate the sadness of our broken lives here on earth and are reminded of better things to come.
Having said all that, there are also some lesser, but still practical, ways to manage the stress and sadness that often accompany the holidays.
When it comes to avoiding money problems, make a plan ahead of time of how much you are going to spend. Make sure it's a number that will not cause you to go into credit card debt. Make a list and stick to it, so you won't fall victim to impulse buys that you will regret later.
Doing something for someone else is a sure way to lift your mood. Churches, hospitals, and nursing homes all need volunteers this time of year.
Speaking of your mood, it's hard to beat good old fashioned exercise as the best mood booster around. Forget those anti-depressants and sleeping pills. Go work up a good, long sweat and those endorphins, our natural mood-boosters, will chase the blues away.
If you anticipate being lonely, make plans ahead of time to get-together with people. Isolation can lead to depression, so force yourself to be around other people and focus on giving love, not getting it. Also, reach out to family members who are far away via Skype, letters, emails, or videos.
Remember,Christmas is about Christ. Accept the free gift of salvation that is found through him alone. Then know that he loves you and wants to help you.
The Bible says, "cast your cares on him because he cares for you." So do it! Take your problems to him and he will comfort you.