From Christmas to Hanukkah to Kwanzaa, the winter holidays come wrapped up in themes of peace, love, presents and light that are admirably meant to bring more joy to this world. How wonderful it is to join in these celebrations! We’d be remiss, however, not to remember that so many—sometimes even you or I—may also struggle with depression and financial strain amidst these December traditions.
Fortunately, there is plenty of research available to suggest those stumbling blocks are no match for the true spirit of the season, which is to give of ourselves. Where emotional despair or a tight budget threaten to cause outbursts of “Bah! Humbug!” we have instead the power to push back against such real concerns with simple acts of kindness.
Better yet, they can be cost free and good for our own health.
Multiple studies indicate that the process of giving—be it time, talk, toil or toys—will often result in lower blood pressure, higher self-esteem, lessening depression and greater happiness. Generosity is shown to spark pleasure centers in the brain, increasing feel-good chemicals such as serotonin and dopamine.
Without fail, what creates happiness in us is to take the focus off ourselves and do something helpful for someone else. So what are some creative, cost effective ways to give back during this holiday season?
Volunteer: Community outreach is a fun place to start. Got a car? Some local organizations prepare special meals for people in need and could use a delivery driver. If you like to sing or play piano, nursing home residents would love a visit from someone bearing the gift of song. Your presence is a present. A 2010 survey showed 89 percent of volunteers gained an improved sense of wellbeing in the giving process!
Connect: Another study indicates giving that promotes deeper social connection breeds the greatest increase in happiness. One idea is to give an older family member a notebook with thoughtful pre-written questions related to their history. Whenever you’re together, select a question, take notes and build a special biography over time. It’s sure to become an invaluable keepsake for all involved.
Repeat: Use the winter holidays to consider developing a recurring practice of giving. For example, some people who celebrate Christmas make it a point to do something generous on the 25th of each month throughout the year. It can be as simple as setting a calendar reminder to text encouragement to a friend or buying the person’s lunch behind you in line at the cafeteria that day. You’ll be glad you did.
To give of yourself is a gift to yourself! If you need help overcoming depression and anxiety or discovering the great gift that you are to others, Centerstone is here to help.
Matt Hardy, PhD, is a Regional Vice President at Centerstone overseeing its integrated behavioral and physical healthcare services in the northern area of Middle Tennessee.