Depressed

When The Holidays Aren't Always Merry...

Happy Holidays!

Except when they aren't.

For many, this year won't live up to the Christmas dream.

This time of year the expectations are raised so high that we are ever more acutely aware of what we don't have, who's no longer with us, and how imperfect our family can look. While it's one of my favorite times of year, research shows us it's also one of the hardest and most stressful.  Loneliness sky-rockets, heart-attacks are more frequent, exhaustion is more prevalent, and finances feel most strained.

When I used to pastor churches I was acutely aware that the holidays were some of the hardest times for many in my congregation. This time of year--with the huge emphasis placed on family, travel, and being together--serves as a mile-marker that can highlight who we have lost in recent years or fear losing in the year to come. For many it was their first Christmas without a specific loved one.  For some it was a reminder that they didn't have any family.  For others who were suffering with pain, age, or uncertain health prognoses it was a time of wondering if this would be their last Christmas season. And for still others, this holiday will be spent around hospital beds as sickness, accidents, and heart-attacks are known to ignore calendars.

Even without tragedy and loss, the picture of a Norman Rockwell family holiday can seem more rare than normal. Many don't have the money or time to travel to be with family, others don't want to be with their family, and still others will go but will feel like they can't always breathe through their family dysfunction and dynamics. We find ourselves wishing that we had the soul mate we've been looking for, the baby we have been trying to have, or the divorce that we can't bring ourselves to initiate.

The Hallmark commercials showing the whole family coming home with grand kids, happy hugs, and big meals often leave us feeling like we've been robbed this illusive experience. It's hard to always feel happy when the bar gets raised.

Add to all of this the gazillion extra things we take on: shopping, holiday cards, cookie bakes, kids concerts, company parties, extra spending, shipping lines, childcare during school breaks, decorating, and all the extra activities that help us get into the spirit of the season.

Yes, I was very careful what I said up front during the holiday season to a church full of tired-looking people. For as much as we want to just say "Happy Holidays!"-- saying it doesn't always make it so.

Love's Blessing For You

This season I want to anchor us in something that we can all exude regardless of the losses, stresses, and disappointments that are sure to be there, too.

So for all of you, my GirlFriendCircles.com community, whether your weariness comes from planning the perfect holiday or whether you're mourning the holiday that won't be this year-- I invite you to a moment of rest.

Christmas heart

"Come to me all who are weary and I will give you rest."-- Jesus, the Love we celebrate this season

You're weary.  I can see it.  I know it.  You weren't created to feel this anxiety, panic, stress, or fear. For one moment, can you release it, or hold it more loosely? Can you hold all your stress in your hand and symbolically open your fingers to remind yourself you don't have to cling to it? You don't have to grip it so hard.  Do you see it there in your hand?  Outside of you? It's not in you... you choose what to inhale.  But see this stress in your hand and know that you can choose what you hold, or at least how you hold it. Take another deep breath. And let it out.....

You were created to feel loved, be loved, and give love. And that you can do without dollars in your bank or extra time in your day.

Rest from your unmet expectations.

Rest from your fears.

Rest from your ache.

Rest from your sense of alone-ness.

I invite you, in this moment, to inhale love, and to exhale worry.

I invite you, in this moment, to name something you're grateful for in your life.

I invite you to look around and whisper "In this moment, I have everything I need.  I really do."

I invite you to put your hand on your heart and say "I am deeply and fully loved."  Because you are.

You can be love even when you're lonely. Release the picture of what you think you need before you can feel loved.  Let go of the limitations you've placed on what form it can take.  Be gentle with yourself and know that there is no shortage of love for you.

You are love.  You were created in the image of Love. We so often forget, but today we can remember it.  Remember that we are love.

Today, let our actions be connected to our love.  Let's make sure that the things on our to-do list come from a place of love.  And stay in a place of love.

  • Rather than bake cookies because we have this picture of ourselves as having to live up to Martha Stewart, let's bake cookies as an expression of love.
  • Rather than sit next to a hospital bed with fear and regret, let's stay in the place of love.
  • Rather than bemoan the family that isn't, let's find others to love.

Let's reach out and tell a far-away friend that we love them. Let's find a moment to remember that we love ourselves.  Let's think of someone we know who might be hurting this holiday and drop a card in the mail. Let's love.

Girlfriends, our lives may not feel perfect, happy, and perky this season.  Jolly and merry may not be within reach. But love is already in us.  We can love no matter what.  Let's be women of love-- women who exude love, women who receive love, women who give love.

May our Christmases be centered around love, no matter the circumstances. With tons of love for you!  Hugs!!!

 

One Girl Trying to Find Happiness Today...

I woke up this morning in a funk. The kind of blah mood that leaves me staring out windows and rolling my eyes at my to-do list. It's complicated when well-intentioned people ask me "what's wrong?" and I pause for a second, trying to come up with some litany of reasons that would cause the questioner to nod their head in agreement. I really do wish I had a justified reason, something I could point to, an understanding of why I feel unhappy. But I don't. Maybe I'm just tired?

Increasing my Happiness But while I may not have a specific reason to be suffering from some lack of adrenaline today, I do know bits and pieces of what will move me away from this space. Certainly I'm going to go to bed early tonight. I am going to try to get at least one thing checked off my to-do list today (writing this blog will count!) I am going to pause for five minutes and add bullet points to my gratitude journal. I am going to go for a late afternoon walk and get some fresh air and hope that a few endorphins sneak into my body. And, I am going to go to Girls Night tonight.

Every Tuesday night I go. I don't ever ask myself if I want to go. Tonight, I fear, I'd vote against attending if I raised the question. So, I just go. It's scheduled into my life the same way I wake up and go to work, brush my teeth, meditate and pray, watch Private Practice on Thursday nights, eat pizza on Saturday nights, show up in spiritual community every weekend and check my email. We routinize those things that are significant to us, those things that matter. And friendship is one of them for me.

As it is for you. Whether you know it or not.

Gretchen Rubin in The Happiness Project gives an entire chapter to "Make Time for Friends" saying "One conclusion was blatantly clear from my happiness research: everyone from contemporary scientists to ancient philosophers agrees that having strong social bonds is probably the most meaningful contributor to happiness."

In this year's book Wellbeing: The Five Essential Elements, they list our social connections as the second most significant factor (only after career, which determines much of our identity and contribution) to our wellbeing. Not only because who we interact with influences our habits, behaviors and health, but the very process of interacting decreases our stress and elevates our mood. A quote for me today: "Each hour of social time quickly decreases the odds of having a bad day."

And here's a kicker from the Harvard News last week based on research from their psychologists who found that "people were happiest when making love, exercising, or engaging in conversation. They were least happy when resting, working, or using a home computer." hmm.... that explains a lot.

I could go on and on, listing the evidence to support the link between our happiness and our social connections.

On the one hand the research doesn't surprise most of us. On the other hand, I find when I'm in a bad mood that I am more prone to want to cancel plans, withdraw, be alone or simply vegetate in front of the TV. Typically as we feel depressed or low energy, our desire to interact wanes. And yet, counter-intuitively, I know that the best way to raise my joy is to connect. Ahh the conundrum.

Therefore, I have a rule with myself that I don't connect with people based on my moods, but rather based on my values. Anyone who has had any success with regular exercise knows the need. If I only went running when I was looking forward to it then I probably wouldn't make it out there all too often! But for my health, for my happiness, for the things I value, for the life I want-- I will connect.

So tonight I go to girls night. I may not be the chipper one, bringing my typical positivity to the others. But I'll be there! And if science is right, arguably I should come home to my husband a wee-bit happier tonight. Which could inevitably lead to another happiness booster on the Harvard list! May as well try everything! ;)