By Gerry Crete, PhD
It’s that time of year again. The commercialization machine starts up earlier and earlier, instilling a sense of urgency to shop, buy, plan, give, and celebrate. The anticipation, preparation and stress of family gatherings begins, made even more complicated by the COVID-19 pandemic this year. Individuals suffering from isolation, anxiety, depression, and seasonal affective disorders may have more pronounced symptoms and struggles. For Catholics, this period of Advent, of waiting for Christ’s birth, is often overshadowed by all the holiday activity and concerns.
By taking some wisdom from St. Therese of Lisieux, we can all begin to take small steps to shift our activities in order to avoid the holiday blues as well as reap the benefits of this holy season.
Eliminate or Reduce Certain Activities
Try to adopt the mantra that doing “less” this Advent and holiday season is actually “more” for your mental health and spiritual well-being.
First, avoid getting caught up in holiday commercialism and buying too many things. If your personal “love language” is giving, try to focus instead on giving time, attention, and a listening ear. Focus on loving others from the heart. Consider St. Therese’s reflection, “Our Lord poured in the light of truth, which shines far brighter than the shadowy light of earthly pleasures. I would not exchange the ten minutes spent upon my act of charity for a thousand years of such worldly delights.”
Second, minimize the “doing” activities and shift to “being”. Let go of the extravagant preparations, the intense cleaning, the complicated gift-giving. “Without love, deeds, even the most brilliant, count as nothing,” St. Therese reminds us.
Third, give up the news, social media, and all the noise. We can do very little to change what the world is complaining and talking about. Don’t let all the noise disrupt your peace. Instead, shift the time spent on worrying about the state of the world to prayer, charity, and service.
Replace These Activities With Others
By eliminating some stress-evoking activities, you’ll free up time for other activities that will nourish your soul and improve your mood and mental health.
First, appreciate the small things. “Remember that nothing is small in the eyes of God,” St. Therese writes. “Do all that you do with love.” And, do these things in the present moment, “If I did not simply live from one moment to another, it would be impossible for me to be patient; but I only look at the present, I forget the past, and I take good care not to forestall the future,” she adds. Cherish the moments and conversations with family members, whether in person, on the phone, or through a video call. Make small acts of kindness with great love.
Second, deepen your prayer life. Ironically, the more we get wrapped up in the holiday chaos, the less time we make for prayer, and the greater suffering we bring upon ourselves. See the holidays as a time for deepening prayer life. St. Therese reminds us, “For me, prayer is a surge of the heart; it is a simple look turned toward heaven, it is a cry of recognition and of love, embracing both trial and joy.”
Finally, focus on loving others and not on doing for others. “A word or a smile is often enough to put fresh life in a despondent soul,” St. Therese writes. Reach out to someone every day with a loving and kind spirit. Do this for yourself (you need to connect with others) but also purposefully do this to help someone else as well!