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Happy Thanksgiving, neighbors! It is my hope and prayer that you have a blessed and joyous holiday season.
For many people, the holiday is a time of nostalgia, family traditions and favorite recipes. However, the holiday season is one of angst, anxiety and even despair for so many others. So many people battle with stress and depression as unwelcome guests during the holiday season. The stress and demands that come with this time of year can be the welcome mat to that stress.
In addition to that, the strain of the continued pandemic can have you worrying about yourself, your loved ones and your friends.
Generally speaking, suicide rates have risen 30% from 1999-2016 (from the Centers for Disease Control). This increase does not include the last two years with the myriad of difficulties that so many in the country and the world have experienced as a result of the ongoing pandemic.
The holiday is a reminder for many, not of what they have or who they have, but of who is missing. For me, this holiday season is a reminder of missing people around this year’s holiday table.
The Mayo Clinic offers several tips to prevent holiday stress and depression, including acknowledging your feelings, reaching out if you feel lonely or isolated, and being realistic, recognizing that the holidays don’t have to be perfect.
They also suggest, among family gatherings, to set aside differences, choosing to discuss grievances until another time of discussion; also, from a financial standpoint, stick to a budget. (See https://mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-managment/in-depth/stress/art-20047544)
Stress and depression are not just modern-day phenomena. The Bible recounts several people who experience circumstances of stress and depression. In a number of the psalms, David regularly speaks of the difficulty and despair that he experienced.
In Psalm 22, the opening question posed by David is one of great despair, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” This statement appears to be one of hopelessness and restlessness.
However, this statement must be viewed considering the one who is attributed for its writing, David. David is described in scripture as a man after God’s own heart, one who has experienced great military triumph. He is accredited for the notable military victory over a giant — Goliath.
David, as a young shepherd, killed a lion and a bear. Yet, David in Psalm 22 finds himself with feelings of being broken. He is frustrated by life and even frustrated by God’s seeming failure to respond to his cries amid his anguish.
I say all of that to suggest to you that you are not alone. David felt abused by the world, had feelings of alienation and abandonment from the Lord, no answers in sight, and felt like rest and relief were absent.
For David, he did not have the Mayo Clinic at his disposal, but he, too, engaged in their tips. David is honest about where he is, what he is going through and how he feels. He encourages us to acknowledge that it is okay to say that you are not okay.
If that is also your position this holiday season, I must offer one more recommendation. Please, seek help. David began in Psalm 22 by seeking the Lord’s help. Interwoven in these words of despair and lament in Psalm 22, he also makes repeated requests for assistance. David solicits God’s presence in verse 11 and God’s protection and power in verse 20. He expressed his feelings to the one who he understood and believed could help him.
However, we must also note that on occasions, divine aid comes through human means. Just as doctors and medicine can be God’s vehicle of healing for physical maladies, therapy, counseling, and other professional help can be God’s vehicle for mental turmoil.
Again, the Mayo Clinic suggests that if despite your best efforts, feelings of persistent anxiety continue, you should talk to your doctor or mental health professional.
Do not be afraid or ashamed; seek assistance. And know that God has given us a number of methods, miraculous and even medical, that can provide us with the healing or appropriate coping mechanisms we need.
So, as you embark on your holiday traditions or even embrace a new normal, do not throw in the towel prematurely. Do not allow the stress and strain to push you to quit on life. Please be honest, remember your hope in God, and get the help that you need.
Christopher M. Todd is a Coosa County resident and the pastor of The New Home Missionary Baptist Church near Rockford.