The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

December 21, 2012

Holidays bring sadness, depression, debts to many

Point Blank

By John Blankenship

— Every year we get caught up in the anticipation, celebration and sensory overload that are the hallmark of the holidays.

It’s easy to understand why the holidays are a source of worry when you consider how many Americans are living paycheck to paycheck. Despite a whittling away of consumer debt that has been under way since the recession, many Americans are still entering the holiday season unprepared to cope with the expenses that crop up around this time of year.

Perhaps it is ironic that the holidays, which are meant to be a time for celebration, joy, family, loved ones, connection, harmony and contentment, bring sadness and depression to so many people.

Perhaps it is because those who suffer from the holiday blues look at their current life situation and perceive it as empty and lonely, lacking in loving and nurturing relationships, lacking in meaningful and supportive family bonds, lacking in personal fulfillment, lacking in health and happiness.

And if the thought of buying all those Christmas presents has you stressed out, you’re not alone. A new survey says 45 percent of Americans would just as soon skip the holiday altogether.

It makes perfect sense for some of us. When we think about it, the commercialization of the holiday is just undue pressure and there’s nothing fun about Jan. 7 and opening that credit card bill and seeing that we’ve spent $700 or $800. The thrill of it is all gone and we’re left with having to pay it off.

Think Finance, a provider of payday loans and other financial services for consumers with partial or no access to banking services, recently surveyed 1,000 people who use services like payday loans, prepaid debit cards and direct deposit advances. The result: 45 percent say the holidays are a significant source of strain and stress on their finances. The same percentage of consumers also noted they don’t expect to have enough money set aside to cover the expenses of the holiday.

The stress is understandable. Even without the holidays, some 40 percent of people say they would only be able to get by for two weeks without a paycheck, while an additional 25 percent say they could survive only a month.

The Think Finance study also says 59 percent of those in the survey expect to carry debt with them into the new year, including some 54 percent of those who earn more than $100,000 a year.

And while the economy has shown gradual improvement in recent years, everyday Americans are still working hard to cover expenses, making holiday spending particularly stressful.

In fact, the holidays are expected to only make things worse, because holidays aren’t a cheerful time for everyone.

Believe it or not, more people suffer from depression this time of year than any other. Whether it’s the cold, gloomy weather, the yearning for our passed loved ones, financial stress, or family discord, it’s not always “the most wonderful time of the year.”  

Those who suffer from the holiday blues often fear the future will only deliver them more of the same: more loneliness and alienation; more frustration and regret; more pain and suffering. So what do we do about it?

Perhaps we shouldn’t focus so much of our energy on the disappointments of the past. Best we focus on the potential happiness of the future.

According to Walter E. Jacobson, M.D., in an article published recently in the Huffington Post:

“When anxious, fearful thoughts pop into our mind, we shouldn’t give them power to terrorize us. We should gently tell them to go away and haunt someone else. We don’t need to dwell on all the horrible ‘what ifs’ that might not even happen.

“In other words, we don’t need to fill our mind with thoughts of failure, loneliness, pain, torment and other miseries.”

The good doctor is right. Perhaps the best way to overcome the holiday blues is to live in the present. In this moment we can look at the beauty of nature all around us, marvel at the miracle of life in all its myriad forms.

There is great joy to be had in this world, despite our not having the relationships, position and possessions we desire, by simply connecting with others — extending acceptance, tolerance, love and forgiveness.

For what we give to others will come back to us ten-fold.


Top o’ the morning!

— Blankenship is a columnist for The Register-Herald. E-mail: