Today we are going to focus on the holiday season, and how we can overcoming the sadness and holiday blues which sometime accompany this time of year.
Brad J. Neufeld (who was previously interviewed on Stories of Hope about his personal story) is back to discuss how we can overcome depression that often accompanies this time of year and find joy and happiness.
Brad says that there are many people who experience loneliness during the Christmas holiday season. Brad himself knows firsthand what it's like to be alone for the holidays. He has been supporting himself since he was 13 years old. Though he saw his family temporarily in 1980, six months later his parents moved from Utah to California. He was 16 years old at the time, living in Utah by himself. Brad had agreed with his parents to talk on the phone regularly but it was still a very lonely time.
"When you are used to everyone being around, opening presents together, and experiencing the happiness of the holidays, watching the parades and the football by yourself just isn't the same," he says. Though he made it through the first year, the following year was even more difficult. The hardest was the year he was 18 but still alone for the holidays.
Brad jokes that he almost considered himself a Grinch, but that changed slowly when he met his wife. Brad says his wife loves all holidays and celebrates each one, but that Christmas is a big one. She has always insisted on having a fresh tree each year. and that's something they have done for 33 years now.
Brad recalls that the most impactful holiday season for him was about 15 years ago. That year had been a financially challenging one for Brad and his family, and they weren't going to be able to get their children anything for Christmas. Brad felt himself shift back into the mentality that Christmas was no good for him and he truly did not want his kids to experience what he had felt growing up. But the members of Brad's community sensed that Brad's family needed some help that year. On Christmas morning, their family woke up to bags of gifts from "anonymous." Brad says that instance truly touched his heart and humbled him. He realized that is what Christmas is about, thinking of others.
Brad says he knows that depression rates and other emotions run high during this time of year. He also experienced the feeling of wanting others to stay away, and even had suicidal thoughts at times. He says it's often we talk about just surviving Christmas, rather than enjoying it.
For Brad, it's important to focus on the happy emotions that come out of the holidays, rather than just the commercial aspects, even though that can be hard to do sometimes. His experience with loving neighbors reminded him that even though it can feel like no one cares, "God is always is always looking over us. Neighbors do care. People care."
Brad explains he used to look for and find the negative about the holidays, but ever since this loving experience with his neighbors, he had a shift in his thinking. Quoting Dr. Wayne Dyer' book title, "You'll See It When You Believe It." Brad says when he started to believe Christmas had positive elements he started to see and enjoy them.
Brad explains there are many ways you can include those who may struggle during the holidays. He looks at things from the giver's and the taker's perspective. From a giver's perspective, Brad says it's important to remember that there is no right or wrong way to celebrate Christmas.
While everyone may put up their lights and Santa statues right after Thanksgiving, you don't have to. Brad personally hates putting up the Christmas lights and would prefer to leave them up all year. So instead of judging the neighbor that doesn't have their lights up, remember you don't know the full story. They may just celebrate differently than you.
Looking for the commonality can help to bridge the gap and help others feel more welcome and comfortable--no matter how they celebrate the holiday season. The biggest commonality is giving. Brad says you could also just ask if there's anything you could help with for the holidays. They may not want your help, but it never hurts to ask.
Brad also says from the taker's perspective that you have to remember that people may not give what you expect. Maybe they are giving all that they can. He says to look at it as the act of giving rather than the actual thing given. The taker's responsibility is to accept what is given with a thank you, even if it's just a smile or a, "Merry Christmas!"
Also, don't compare what gift you are giving (and how much it costs) with the gift you receive from that person.
Brad says that depressed individuals may have expectations that they don't express. He says that a great thing is to ask what those who are depressed are expecting for the holidays. (Don't wait to ask until two days before Christmas either.) It is best to have a strategy in place well in advance, before the expectations and the emotions set in.
First, ask them what you can do to help the holiday season be the best it can be. If they don't know, ask them to think about it and then follow up with them. Be sure to follow up! Then do all you can to help them set up for a successful holiday season.
Brad explains for those who are depressed, "You can't keep dropping big hints and hoping someone gets it." You need to express your hopes and expectations clearly. Write down those things that would help make the holidays the best for you and share your ideas with those you are closest to.
He says you've got to take action in order to overcome. A big first step forward is recognizing which of your needs aren't being met and figuring out a way to have those needs met. Brad says you'll be surprised by how many people will want to help. You may think you know what others will say, but you don't. Brad says that's the biggest thing he learned was that 90 percent of people are good and want to help. When he started telling people what it was that he needed, he was met with an outpouring of love and support.
What about someone who says they would rather just be left alone? Brad says that you have to choose to ignore that request. A request to be alone is actually saying, "I want you, I want attention without having to ask for it."
Brad views depression as not only a chemical imbalance, but an addiction to attention. Maybe someone is depressed thinking that a phone call from someone would help them feel better. And maybe they do get to talk to that person. But the next day they don't get that phone call and they are down. The person giving the attention doesn't know that's the expectation though. So it would be helpful to find out what that person's needs are and encourage them to be open with you so that you can better help them.
Often with depression or holiday blues, people wanting to help you give all sorts of advice like, "Hey, if you'd just get up in the morning and go to the gym or you'd go for a brisk walk in the morning, you'll feel better." That often feels like daggers hitting when you struggle with depression and it is hard it is to even think.
But here is something Brad has also learned, "Unless you start taking small actions, nothing's ever gonna change." Brad continues to explain, "I do know that one of the biggest things to change your status and where you're at is to take different actions and what you've been doing up to that point. If you look at it as what I've been doing up to this point has led me to here." Then you need to, "Do something different. You need to try new things. Go to that family party." Brad goes on to specifically explain that if you need protections at the family party, maybe you just go and sit out in the car. Even a small change like that can work.
Maybe you don't feel like being around a big crowd, at least go sit out on the porch. Have a close friend or family member explain, "Jim's here. It took him a lot to get here, so, please let him be. He's here."
That's what it took for Brad to heal, taking baby steps. People don't have to do more than they can. Brad cautions that sometimes if you do something different you worry about fear of failure or that you will feel even worse afterwards. Here is where Brad gives the secret, "Go into it with an attitude of, Hey, I want to go learn something today. I'll go to the party. Don't, don't beat yourself up and say, I didn't stay the whole family party. No. Look at the positive. I got up out of my bed, I went, I stayed there for half an hour, and I learned this. If you just get in the habit of that, it's amazing how quickly you can, you can start healing." Celebrate the change and success of making a change and learning from it.
Brad goes on to explain that when you make changes, it is important to have back up plans in place. If you get overwhelmed easily, plan to go sit in the car or in a quiet corner of the house if you start feeling anxious. Maybe you need a distraction like an iPad, a book, or a deck of cards. These are things you can control. So, put these plans into place.
Brad gave a personal example of this. He explained that at first it was difficult for him at his wife's family parties. He felt like the party was more for the family, not the in-laws. So, Brad talked to his wife and made a plan. He asked her to some sit by him while they were eating, and that helped make the even more enjoyable for him.
New situations can be extremely difficult to navigate. Brad says the best way to approach new situations is to prepare ahead of time. This goes hand in hand with making plans and preparing for possible situations. He says it's best to ask yourself what or who might bring you stress in the upcoming weeks.
If you know what things may bring you stress, you can have a pre-planned response for questions that may arise. Maybe you are like Brad and don't like to put lights up. If it will stress you to be asked about it, have a response prepared that will stop that conversation. Brad says a response like, "We are just trying to simplify this year and spend less time and money," may work well. Again, finding the commonality can help to bridge the gap.
Another new situation that many face each holiday season is becoming an empty nester. Brad says many people feel like raising their children brought their life value, and when their children are gone that they no longer have any value. He says although being an empty nester is difficult for many, it's an important part of development.
Brad recalls that when four of his six children moved out of their family home within the year, it was a traumatic experience for his wife. He and his wife had to prepare differently for the holidays by keeping communication lines open with children and other family members. Figure out different plans so you can still see each other. Brad's family now gets together and goes out to eat. He loves watching his kids talk and laugh about stories from when they were growing up. He jokes that while the restaurant is expensive, it's either that or therapy. And he chooses the restaurant.
Another idea for empty nesters is to sit down and ask what you are going to do with the extra time you have. Feel the joy of knowing that you did a great job with your kids, then find somewhere else to lend your time that will bring that sense of purpose back into your life. Finally, Brad says staying flexible and getting together when you can is the best approach.
One new situation you might face during the holidays is after a loved one has passed away. Brad says he coaches people through this situation often, and even experienced similar emotions himself when his father in law was extremely ill one holiday season.
Brad says that something he finds that really helps those he coaches is to prepare a list of things that you love and remember about the person. You can even focus on one attribute or positive thing that person did each day of the holiday season, much like a countdown to Christmas. He says that people who have done this say that it truly helps them feel like their loved one is with them again, even if they aren't physically there. For Brad, it all comes back to focusing on the positive.
If your family doesn't get along, Brad says don't force it. He encourages mom, dad or a sibling to plant the seed of mending that gap, but know that good things come with time. This time of year is good for healing those relationships, just like you see in the movies. Brad also says it is good to revisit the relationship every three to six months and just ask how the other is doing.
Pray for those you want to help or heal a relationship with, and remember that the best gift is time, love, and connection.
Brad also wanted to remind us that it is important not to attack or criticize others beliefs or ways of celebrating (or not celebrating) during the holidays. He cautions, "Be careful about that because when you attack somebody else's beliefs. That automatically causes contention and most of the time they'll hold onto that. Some people have the skills to let things like that go, but most people don't. And if you're after to have a peaceful and fun loving, holiday season, don't attack them for their beliefs. Just, accept it and then move on.
Also, if you have somebody that tends to be a little contentious, praying for them is a good thing.
Prayer can always help in any situation. Sometimes you can pray to figure out how to get through your personal situation. Other times you can, "Just pray for who you can help," Brad explains. He continues by encouraging us to ask who in our neighborhood or family unit needs help holiday season. God knows. Then Brad encourages to follow the promptings received.
Remember that Jesus Christ is the reason for the season. And, and in your busyness, don't forget the whole reason. And if you, if you feel you need to simplify, think about it, pray about it, and figure out what is right for you. If you're struggling with a specific situation, involve God in that and involve your family members. It is so important to communicate and listen. Don't let the busyness of the holiday season deprive you of relationships with the people you care the most about.
Although Brad now looks forward to and enjoys the holidays, he also has a different kind of answer for those who ask if he is "ready for Christmas?" Brad says, "There is no ready. You just do it and enjoy what you can from it."
Brad admonishes, "If you're suffering from depression, please seek professional help." Try medications prescribed by doctors.
Brad doesn't want anyone to go through the holidays without asking for help. If you or a loved one needs help this holiday season, Brad's phone number is (435) 830-6945, or you can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.