The holiday blues are authentic for many people. When people sing the phrase, “ it’s the most wonderful time of the year,” for many people the words could be changed to “it’s the most triggering time of year,” or “it’s the most depressing time of the year.” In climates where the weather becomes cold, and the sky is more overcast, depression symptoms increase because of the lack of sunlight and less time outdoors. November is typically the month I begin to see more cases of Seasonal Affective Disorder (S.A.D.); which is depression symptoms tied to less sunlight exposure in our part of the United States. In some parts of the world, overexposure to sunlight can also result in the same symptomology. In addition to an increase in seasonal depression, many people are triggered by losses that surface during the holidays. When we do not have loving family members with which to spend the holidays or have abusive family members, family conflicts, the death of a loved one, divorce, separation, addiction, infertility, or unhappy feelings about any of our current life situations, depression can arise. The holidays stir things up because of the expectations and images we have been told represent what an ideal holiday looks like. Thank you Hallmark Channel! So how does one deal with all the losses and depression stirred to the surface at once? Many people push it all down during the holidays because they feel too busy to process their emotions, but this creates issues for the physical body which experiences sleep disturbances, increased anxiety, lowered immunity, and a plethora of other physical issues. In this podcast, counselors Sharon Wegman and Cait Beiler begin to discuss “Coping with the Holiday Blues” with strategies for dealing with the stress the holiday blues create for your body. This podcast is part one in the “Coping with the Holiday Blues” series.
From the dawn of time, we have documented stories from the Bible in which people did not know how to help others who were grieving and in emotional and physical pain. There are so many reasons that people are not skilled in helping those in distress. Those reasons can range from their own childhood trauma, lack of seeing it modeled and a plethora of other reasons. However, we are called to be a people who comfort those who mourn and many times our western culture does not know how to do that when pain lasts for longer than a couple of weeks. While the culture of the west is more educated in psychological distress such as depression and anxiety, we are less skilled in grieving with those that are mourning and long-term support of someone struggling for an extended period of time. In this podcast, Sharon Wegman, LPC and Cait Beiler of Wellsprings Solutions, LLC discuss a dozen ways that you can help those that are struggling.
There is a different kind of math that we as therapists use when we meet people. I refer to it as therapy math. It is different because we are assessing people based on their family mental health history, traumas, life experiences, childhood communication patterns, and a number of other assessment tools. These different factors help create a detailed picture of the person sitting across from us in the therapy room. Rarely is there a simple reason that explains why the person makes the choices they do. Most of the time, the emotional math equation that defines the person is more involved than a simple equation such as 1 + 1 = 2. In most situations, we are trying to discover the algebraic equation that brought us to our present day sum and identifying the unknown factors can sometimes be confusing.
Our western culture tends to process information from surface observations and then constructs a scientific math equation. However, there can be other unknown factors in the equation that are not easy to identify that also play a role. For example, we might look at a person who is overweight and perceive them to be lazy. However, we haven’t taken the time to discover the reasons a person struggles with their weight. It could be a thyroid or other hormonal imbalance problem that continues to fluctuate, verbal abuse a person endured as a child over their weight, poverty that prevents them from buying healthy food, or sexual or physical abuse in their youth that makes them want to hide their body or a myriad of other reasons. There is a multitude of factors that can cause a problem and part of the healing process is uncovering the root that keeps the person stuck in the behavior they find to be uncomfortable, whatever that may be.
Our western rational thinking has also invaded how the American Christian church interacts with mental health issues. As a therapist, I hear people repeatedly misapply biblical principles to mental health issues that need other solutions to find freedom. For example, I might have a very depressed or anxious individual come into my office who is living in an abusive environment. They might think they need to pray harder or work harder at submitting to their spouse or must read their Bible more. In actuality, they need to start using some personal boundaries to restrict the evil behavior being perpetrated against them so they feel less depression and anxiety. It is essential the western church start understanding that psychotherapy can help and empower people to live more free and full lives. Understanding the therapeutic math equation that keeps people from moving forward with others (and even with God) is the first step to gaining freedom. In the attached podcast Sharon Wegman and Cait Beiler discuss this topic of mental health and the church. Expand your therapeutic math skills to understand people in more profound and compassionate ways.
I’ve been thinking a lot of the allegory of physical pain and emotional pain, and how you treat both as I go through extensive physical therapy for my physical pain. My physical pain requires me to focus on stretching out my muscles multiple times a day so that I am in less pain each day. It’s a challenge to choose to do painful exercises that take away time from other portions of my day, but my physical pain increases when I decide not to do the stretching exercises. Likewise, it is this way in the therapy process. Clients ask me, “How long will this take? How many months or how many sessions will this take to get better?” My response is always the same: to whatever level you put into practice the things that I tell you to do outside of the sessions is to what degree you will recover faster. Last time I was going through physical therapy, I had a severe achilles injury that required doing daily stretches. The problem was that I was in the midst of a move to another house and forcing myself to stop packing up my house and do the necessary stretching was very difficult. I wound up requesting that my doctor sign off on doing more physical therapy so that the therapist would force me to do the work I needed to do to get my leg back. The process of physical therapy took longer because I was putting many other things ahead of my recovery. Moving towards emotional pain and the work we need to do to recover ourselves to psychological health is a painful process. We are forced to stare down the things that we avoid dealing with in life, and we are forced to deal with the feelings that we would medicate by keeping our minds occupied. However, I have noticed that the higher my physical pain levels are, the more I self-medicate and the less I reach out to others. My mind is so preoccupied with my pain that I am unable to focus on giving proper care to those close to me. I realize that I must force myself to do the exercises that cost me time and pain in order to get better for both myself and others. My life is happier when I am pain free. I am not hindered in my daily life and the activities that I can choose to do when I my pain is lessened. The same is true for my loved ones. I give them better care when I am not focused on my pain. I am much more pleasant and amiable when my pain levels are down. How about you? How are you dealing with the emotionally painful things in your life? Are you facing them down daily or are you avoiding them at all cost? Each decision has its own payoff. Avoidance of the pain feels as if it lessens the pain in the short term, but the less we deal with it, the more the pain grows, the slower the process of recovery, and the less I give those whom I love the quality of care they need.