Newsletter #415 – Unhappy Christmas

It is well known that the Christmas season can be a time of frustration, stress, loneliness and unhappiness. This applies to counselors, coaches, and leaders as well as to the people we serve. I thought of this when I read “Deconstructing Depression,” in Psychotherapy Networker (November/December 2010).

Author, Margaret Wehrenberg describes depression as a “broad, poorly defined category, which embraces a daunting range of symptoms including cognitive and physical lethargy, mental rumination, loss of concentration, chronic negativity, pessimism, feelings of worthlessness, and unremitting sadness.” Wehrenberg advocates therapies that involve small steps, focused on “subtle shifts in behavior patterns and daily attitudes.” This therapy prods clients into action, helping them take charge of their cognitive habits, instilling hope, and reducing negative mood.

Even if you disagree with Wehrenberg’s cognitive-behavioral approach you may be interested in her classification of depression into four basic clusters.

  • Endogenous depression, probably biologically based, is characterized by low cognitive energy, persistent negative mood, irritability and limited pleasure or interest in daily life. Therapy must be slow and not demanding — a nudging so the brain learns to identify and rehearse thoughts that are positive.
  • Post-traumatic depression often includes sudden feelings of intense helplessness. Treatment includes reminders to focus on the present and to realize that “for the moment, all is well.” There is value in positive self-talk since “we know from neurobiological research that language—coming from the left prefrontal cortex—modulates emotion by exerting control over the limbic system.”
  • Situational depression can result from burnout or overwhelming experiences, including Christmas. Here there is exhaustion, a tendency to withdraw and increasing isolation. Therapy helps clients make the effort to connect with others and to deal with the stresses, in slow steps.
  • Attachment or abuse-induced depression is characterized by negative expectations arising from past experiences. Often there are plunges into despair. A therapeutic goal is to help clients balance a chronic sense of depression and victimization with more positive experiences involving other people.

Please comment on how you make Christmas happy for yourself and others. Best wishes for a happy, uplifting Christmas, remembering the birth of Christ and its eternal significance.

  1. Gary, thank you for another excellent and helpful post! And the timing is great to prepare your readers for the seemingly inevitable post-Christmas/January “down” that attacks so many. Being forwarned is to be forearmed.
    What do I do to counteract depression? My “Ebenezer” (thus far God has led me)journal has served me well over the years. I don’t allow myself any prayer requests or anything negative in the Ebenezer book. I use it like a letter to God each night (a gratefulness journal) before bed: “Thank you God for…” and I list as many individual things as come to mind each evening. I began the practice when I was a single homeschooling Mom, struggling to make ends meet. We did it as a family. 🙂

    • Debbie Witherow
    • December 23rd, 2010

    Having lived overseas on my own for half my life far from family and friends in Canada I’ve had to intentionally try to plan ahead of time and make ‘holiday’s’ something special.
    Reaching out to others and giving has helped me not to focus on the loneliness that I often feel.

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