By Dr. Patricia Knott

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas. The festive decorations are appearing in stores earlier and earlier. In fact, it is not unusual in October to see a Jack-O- Lantern a few steps away from a Christmas tree with all the lights and trimmings. Though most of this is competitive marketing, I like to think that at least some of it is still due to the excitement and pleasurable anticipation of celebrating the holiday season.
For a lot of us, Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year and we rush to bring out the poinsettias, candles, trees, and lights-that is, if we haven't left them in place since the Christmas before. We have completed our gift lists and sent out the invitations for a holiday get-together in our festive homes. We go to bed with visions of sugarplums dancing in our heads. For some people, however, the excitement and cheer of Christmas bring on feelings of sadness, loneliness, and sometimes full blown depression.
The holiday blues affect millions of Americans who work through the process with good results, but it is a major period of unhappiness for about twenty percent of people. If you have difficulty dealing with the holiday blues, it is important for you to know that you are not alone, and that it is a common occurrence. It is also important to seek help from a medical professional if thoughts of death or suicide occur amidst typical signs of depression, and especially if symptoms persist after the holidays.
Many things can cause the feelings of depression and sadness during the holiday season-including fatigue, financial strains, family stress, unrealistic expectations of the season, lack of friends to share the occasion with, death of a loved one, or an anniversary of a divorce to name a few.
Each individual has to determine what works for him/her, but I have considered some general ideas for the overall sense of loneliness that plagues many during the holidays:
Make friends - start now. Studies show that people with friends have more opportunities or means of reducing stress. Reducing stress benefits your health. You can take the initiative to form a bond with others. It may or may not be too late to have these new friends be part of your celebrations for this season, and if it is, then they will be even stronger relationships next season. You might find yourself having to turn down invitations.
Make Christmas about them rather than me. Somehow, when we are busy ministering to others, we don't have the time to worry about what we don't have or who we aren't with. The holidays (or any time) are an opportunity to consider other people who may be lonely. You can bring Christmas to them or invite them over for the holidays which just may bring new friends into your life.
Nursing homes are filled with people who never have visitors or whose families are unable to be with them for Christmas. You can take a few of these people a small gift, wish them a Merry Christmas, and maybe read an inspiring story to them.
Consider volunteering at local churches or organizations that feed the hungry, or participate in programs your church presents at Christmas time. If you are financially able, provide Christmas to an impoverished family with small children in the home.
Send cards to a list of people, some of whom you may not have spent a lot of time with in the past. You will spread some unexpected Christmas cheer and possibly form some new and interesting friendships.
While some people are dealing with loneliness from lack of activity at Christmas, others find themselves overwhelmed by social commitments, financial worries, and family tensions, all bringing about an onslaught of depressive feelings. They too need ways of dealing with the holiday blues. Here are a few suggestions:
Prioritize the parties and events. Consider which ones are a necessary commitment because of the job or because they are important to close friends and family. Limit the number you plan to attend.
Plan your days to include some "me" time, even if it is only thirty minutes a day.
Budget your spending. Consider giving gifts that have more sentimental value than dollar value. Some things may not cost much but are priceless coming from you. Also receive gifts in the same manner.
Appreciate your family for who they are and don't have unrealistic expectations of them. Keep a sense of humor.
Spend time remembering the real reason for the season-celebrating the birth of God's gift to the world.
As you make your holiday plans, consider these suggestions, but remember-pacing yourself, spending time with family and friends, and making others a priority can be done all year long and are not just holiday events.