Four Antidotes to Holiday Anxiety

With COVID on the decline in most places, this year’s holiday season is poised to be a return to “normal.” Families will gather together again and churches will meet to give thanks to God and to celebrate the birth of our Savior. But for many people, “normal” can include sadness and even depression around the holidays.

Why is this the case? Some people suffer from the physiological disorder known as SAD (seasonal affective disorder) in which the physical darkness due to shortened daylight hours causes them to be depressed and sad. Others become anxious for reasons directly related to the holidays: loneliness, tight finances, or strained relationships. These concerns are not unique to the holidays but may be magnified in our lives at this time of year. 

Battling the Darkness

What steps can you take if you or someone close to you is struggling this time of year? With respect to seasonal affective disorder (SAD), often real light in the form of sunlight therapy lamps is prescribed to counter the darkness. A visit to a physician or a counselor might also be beneficial to help provide other means of support.

But what can you do bring light into the emotional darkness of other common anxieties that arise over the holidays? Here are four antidotes to help battle the darkness.

1. Don’t live in the past.

The holidays are times of nostalgia for most of us. For some, it brings reminders of people who are no longer with us or the way things “used to be.” It is wise to heed the counsel of the writer of Ecclesiastes who wrote “Say not, ‘Why were the former days better than these?’ For it is not from wisdom that you ask this.” (Ecclesiastes 7:10) Why is it not wise to look back longingly on “the good old days”?  There are couple of reasons. First, if we are honest, they really weren’t as good as we remember. Second, when we dwell in the past, we fail to realize the blessings and opportunities of the present. Take a few moments to reflect on the good things that God is doing in your life right now. Chances are, you will see new blessings you’ve never recognized before.

2. If you are lonely, remember that the Lord is always with you.

Perhaps you’ve lost a beloved family member and deeply feel their absence. Maybe you’re a single parent who, after your children are asleep, feels isolated and on your own. Remember, wherever you are, the Lord is with you. “Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol [the realm of the dead], you are there! If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me” (Psalm 139:7–10). You can take comfort in the good news that he is always with you. You are never alone. “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand” (Isaiah 41:10, NIV). When you are lonely, the truth is that he is always with you.  Practically, it might be helpful to reach out to someone whom you think might like some company or need some encouragement.

3. If you are worried that you won’t have enough, remember that the Lord has promised to provide.

People worry about money more than anything else, especially around the holidays. But the truth is that the Lord created everything and everything belongs to him. He has also promised to provide for your needs. Every one of God’s sheep can exclaim with confidence “The Lord is my shepherd. I shall not want” (Psalm 23:1, KJV). Remember Paul’s words to the Philippians, “my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19, NIV). What a great promise. Notice that Paul hasn’t promised that God will provide everything that you want but everything that you need. Jesus also addressed this worry in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 6:25–33). You are loved by the Lord, and he will take care of you.

4. When you see decorations and hear the Christmas music, remember why we celebrate.

Although many have forgotten, we know that the true meaning of Christmas is the coming of our Savior into the world as a tiny baby on a rescue mission to forgive our sins and reconcile us to God.  This is the good news that the shepherds were told and has sounded forth through the ages until it has reached our hearts. I used to tell my congregations that this is “our time” because we celebrate this great truth. Whenever you see the decorations and hear the music remember the “reason for the season.” I know that is cliché, but it is true nonetheless.

Someone once observed that what is in the forefront of your mind casts a long shadow. Each of these antidotes requires you to move God’s promises to the forefront of your mind so that his truth will overshadow your worries and provide you with hope. Joy to the world! The Lord is come!

Mindscape Frontcover

Mindscape: What to Think About Instead of Worrying

Mindscape builds a practical action plan for changing your mental landscape—and your life—based on Paul’s rich exhortation in Philippians 4:8. Author Tim Witmer draws from thirty years of experience in helping worried people apply Scripture to their lives to present a clear, biblical, and deeply pastoral guide to replacing worry with a new way of thinking.

Photo by yrabota on Freepik.

About the author

Timothy Witmer

Timothy Z. Witmer, MDiv, DMin is Professor of Practical Theology at Westminster Theological Seminary where he serves as Coordinator of the Practical Theology Department and Director of Mentored Ministry and Master of Divinity Programs. He has also served for thirty-five years in pastoral ministry, currently as the pastor of St. Stephen Reformed Church. Tim is the author of Mindscape: What to Think about Instead of Worrying, The Shepherd Leader, and The Shepherd Leader at Home. He and his wife, Barbara, have three children, four grandchildren, and reside in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.

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