For many of us, the holiday season brings an unwelcome visitor: depression. But rather than fight against or resist this intruder, you can welcome, understand, and even use the blues as a path to healing. I know. I've worked for many years to heal my own depression, and what I have to say is born of the fire and ice of my own journey.
Let's begin with understanding. We might notice that the holidays can bring up painful as well as pleasant feelings. Past holidays may have been difficult, or our lives may not be as fulfilled as we would wish. There may be loneliness, sadness, or anger.
Strangely, however, these feelings are not really the problem. If we look deeply into ourselves, we may notice that not only do we feel some pain, but we may also be comparing ourselves with others: "Everyone else seems happy, so what's wrong with me?"
This is where the problem actually starts. Loneliness, hurt, anger, and sadness are normal human feelings--and they are not the same as depression. Depression is a feeling of deadness and defectiveness. It occurs when emotional pain arises, but, thinking mistakenly that there's something wrong with it, we don't let ourselves feel it. Instead, we block the emotion out, telling ourselves there's something wrong with us for feeling this way. We feel bad and simultaneously think that somehow we are bad. This is depression.
So what can we do? The healing of depression, like the healing of any emotional or physical disturbance, occurs best on four levels of our being--mind, heart, body, and spirit. Here are some simple suggestions.
Accept your depression. I don't mean give in to the depression, just accept its presence in your life so you can work with it. If depression comes in part from rejecting our feelings, rejecting the depression will just make things worse.
Meditate to contact your deeper emotions. Since depression is often frozen grief or anger, if we can feel the warmth of the deeper feelings, we can sometimes begin to melt the ice of depression. Try this awareness meditation several times a week for 10 minutes. Sit with your eyes closed for five minutes and focus on your breathing. Then silently ask yourself, "What else am I feeling?" See if, along with the depression, there is any hurt, sadness, or anger. If so, open up to it and let yourself feel it more deeply. See what happens.
Bless someone. Sadly, it's often easier for us to be nice to someone else than to ourselves. But we can use this tendency to help heal our depression. The great teachers tell us that when we do even a small kindness for someone else, at that moment we ourselves receive a blessing--perhaps because we come into healing contact with our own capacity to care.
In the end, remember that, painful as it is, depression can lead us to explore healing approaches that we might otherwise never have tried. As a result, we might not only ease our depression but also in the process grow into a--heaven forbid!--more happy and joyful person. Depression can be transformed from an unwelcome guest into a kind teacher and friend.
Contemplate your depression. Try to understand it. Understand that you are not alone, that many of us experience depression around the holidays. Understand that sadness, loneliness, and anger do not indicate that something is wrong with you. Just the opposite! They show that you react to painful situations, that you feel, in short, that you're alive! This is healthy. What's so hard for us to understand is that there is never one right way to feel in any situation. The great spiritual traditions all teach us that happiness does not come from trying to imitate others' happiness, no matter how appealing it may look, but from allowing ourselves to feel, be, and accept ourselves fully, whatever we are experiencing, including pain. This is what leads to the greatest happiness.
Practice self-caring meditation. Much of the pain of depression comes from the harsh way we criticize ourselves. But we can learn and practice a different way. Try this meditation. Sit with your eyes closed and think of something about yourself that's hard to accept. Now, let come to your mind the image of someone you know who truly cares for you. Visualize or hear this person accepting and forgiving you for what you find hard to accept. Try this for five minutes a few times a week.
Practice pleasure. Yes, pleasure. Pleasure and joy are the enemies of depression. Even when we're depressed, there may be some little thing that truly pleases us--a piece of chocolate, a hot bath, a favorite piece of music, an old movie, a poem. Even a small amount of pleasure can perk us up and remind us that life can be OK.
Exercise, move, and do energy work. Aerobic exercise for 30 minutes four or five times a week, yoga, chi kung, and tai chi are all simple, safe, and effective anti-depressants.
Take SAMe. A supplement derived from an amino acid that is a quick, natural anti-depressant, SAMe is available in health food stores. Use only GNC, Naturemade, or Puritan's Pride brands because research has shown these to be the only brands with reliable efficacy. Start with one 200 mg. pill 30 minutes before breakfast. Do this for one week. For Week No. 2, add another pill 30 minutes before lunch, and then each week add one more pill until you are taking six pills a day (three before breakfast, three before lunch). While you are taking SAMe, also take vitamin B12 and folic acid (folate), at least 1 mg. (same as 1,000 ug.) of each daily.