As the saying goes, "'tis the season to be jolly." So why don't many folks today feel that way? Seems the holidays bring on a rollercoaster of emotions that can run the gamut from joyous to painful. It's a time that arouses remembrance and reflections that can range from happy, to sad, to bittersweet. If separated from family members it can be an especially painful time. If suffering financial hardships, it can make a struggling family feel they are on the outside looking in. These feelings often lead to what is known as "the holiday blues," or worst yet, a clinical condition known as Seasonal Affective Disorder.
According to the Mindful Living Network, an estimated six percent of Americans are affected by Seasonal Affective Disorder, a form of depression that can linger for several months or more. About 14 percent of American adults suffer from holiday blues. But I fear these estimates may be on the low side, especially when applied to this holiday season. In this moment where dissatisfaction seems to be our only unifying norm, with so much in a state of change, our resiliency and resolve to get into the "holiday spirit" may be tested as never before.
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Do we collectively have mindfulness abilities and reasoning skills to find our way to a state of gratitude and contentment as we approach the end of 2016? You have to wonder if we will we be able to cast aside negative thoughts, emotions and behaviors and to act in compassionate ways — to ourselves as well as others.
In this struggle, we do have a choice. Every day, we have the opportunity to either embrace negative emotions and the path that such feelings lead, or to feel and act in a helpful and hopeful way. Speaking to this point, CNN Health and Wellness editorial director David Allan, in what he calls "The Wisdom Project," recently reminded his audience of a traditional Cherokee legend about a fight between two wolves. The first wolf embodied emotions and vices such as hate, greed, arrogance, dishonesty, anger, false pride, superiority and ego. The other wolf represented values and virtues such as peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, empathy, generosity, truth and compassion. To the question of which one wins the fight, the Cherokee storyteller would reply: "The one you feed."
Allan goes on to point out that the first step in managing your emotions is to simply be more aware of them, to remind ourselves that negative emotions often lead to negative actions. Anger is, after all, but a secondary emotion. The root emotion is fear. Being mindful of that fact can be the tonic we need to change an action. We can fix everything that's wrong with us by what's right with us, says Allan.
This also applies to social media. If we surround ourselves with messages of hate and bitterness they will eventually wear on our sense of self control. Be informed, says Allan, but be wary of listening to those who are in the business of feeding angry wolves.
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But for far too many of us – those who suffer from clinical depression – such calming measures may be out of reach without proper help. Within the community of the clinically depressed, for so many, their struggle goes on in silence.
According to a recent study of more than 50,000 people in 21 countries conducted by King's College London, Harvard Medical School, and the World Health Organization, 350 million people worldwide are affected by depression. The vast majority of them receive no treatment for their condition, either due to the stigma attached to doing so, or a lack of knowledge. Even in the richest countries – including ours – only one in five people with depression seek care.
We are ignoring the fact that depression can be treated, say the authors of the study. Their message: if you feel something is wrong within you, seek help. Yet we are not heeding this call. The stigma of receiving mental health treatment is too great. A disturbing indicator of this comes in a recently published report showing that, for the first time, suicide rates for U.S. middle school students have now surpassed the rate of death by car crashes. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the suicide rate among youngsters ages 10 to 14 doubled in the U.S. from 2007 to 2014. And while experts are quick to point out that depression and suicide are not necessarily synonymous, you have to wonder what's up.
A common toast during the holiday season is "to your health." This season let's make that "to a healthy frame of mind." Let's use this toast to remind ourselves of the blessing we have and that kindness is contagious – a fact science agrees with. It could go a long way in starting us down the right path.
Write to Chuck Norris with your questions about health and fitness. Follow Chuck Norris through his official social media sites, on Twitter @chucknorris and Facebook's "Official Chuck Norris Page." He blogs at ChuckNorrisNews.blogspot.com.