Ask the Doc: This season is about love

Dec. 24, 2013 @ 11:02 PM

Q: Doc, do you see people who don’t enjoy Christmas?

A: Yes, unfortunately. There are many reasons for this, including failed relationships with a spouse or family, a tragic loss of a child, overwhelming anxiety and an overwhelming sense of emptiness in spite of the season.

Many of these people cope by staying busy with work or traveling while a few simply become hermits in their own comfortable isolation from the world. Their constant action keeps them from thinking of the pain or from trying to find a peace with it. This holiday blues is pacified back into its quiet simmer in January.

It's different when the holiday blues result from severe depression. The common belief that there are more suicides during the holidays was debunked by a study in 2011 in the British Medical Journal, but tragic cases grab headlines. People who are not functioning well in their daily life, or considering harming themselves or someone else, should immediately be seen by their physician or ER.

A recent study from Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston showed that meditation (quietly sitting for up to 30 minutes twice daily) stimulated the body’s natural relaxation, reduced blood pressure, increased blood flow and slowed down the stress hormone cortisol’s release.

In other words, science is catching up with common sense and common spiritual beliefs about meditation.

Meditation should be a habit used with traditional medication, according to the research. In the constant digital and media world we live in, it makes even more sense. No one can constantly go without soon being quickly gone.

Christmas should include a time to reflect on life, love and blessings we have been given. In a larger sense, we should all reflect on this daily, but Christmas seems to bring the entire year into perspective in the setting of family and friends. Some people never slow down until they are faced with a serious medical condition, significant loss, or just the brutal realization that in spite of all efforts to make it work, a situation is bad and needs to be changed. When this occurs, a person has to step back from the grindstone and reassess life as a whole.

For Christians, Christmas is a time to reflect on the belief in an Almighty God, a Creator, reaching across an infinite void to provide a reconciliation to hurting and flawed human beings breathed full of a spirit and a soul. It is a season for those believers, and those who want to think they are, to reflect on love – the love of a Creator for his Creation and the desire to have a loving relationship with them.

A picture this week in the news of a Syrian father, weeping over the lifeless child in his arms taken from him by a horrific bombing, brought me to a stop. He appeared unconsolable. I don’t know him, or any of his beliefs, culture, customs or ideas, but I do know the same love for a child that he knows. Love is universal because it is the core of who, and why, we are.

This season, in spite of all the shopping, lights, parties, festivals, perennial TV shows and outlandish elf stunts, is about love and giving out of that love. If we fail to take some time to pause, to think, to meditate on that reality, then we are either too busy, too brokenhearted, or just too cold to the reality that nothing else really matters outside our relationships and the core of who we are.

I’ve never seen an obituary that boasted of never taking vacations or sick days because of an impeccable work ethic, or listed the number of bank accounts and amount of land holdings and club memberships.

No, obituaries list family and friends – the ones who really know us and how we really lived. Christmas is the time to set the digital distractions and the festive flurry aside at some point and quietly, meditatively, know the ‘Holy’ of the holidays and love those around us in the short time we are given.

Eric J. Littleton, M.D. is a family physician in Sevierville, Tenn. He will be relocating to his new office at 958 Dolly Parton Parkway in January 2014. Topics covered are general in nature and should not be used to change medical treatments and/or plans without first discussing with your physician. Send questions to