What The Grinch Can Teach Us About Depression
By Dr. Jami Wilder
“The Grinch hated Christmas! The whole Christmas season! Now, please don’t ask why. No one quite knows the reason.”
Each holiday season, Dr. Seuss’ Grinch unleashes his angst-filled fury on the unsuspecting residents of Whoville in the classic How The Grinch Stole Christmas. Eternally bothered by their chipper approach to Christmas, the Grinch attempts to hijack the Whos’ holiday, only to be thwarted by his own emotional existential experience.
Like many cartoons, the Grinch offers us life lessons cleverly wrapped in catchy song lyrics and animation. While distracting us with things that entertain and amuse us (and don’t forget Cindy-Lou Who’s big doe eyes that make you say “Awwww”), the Grinch is teaching us a few things, including a few things about depression.
“Wait a minute,” you say. “Cartoons? Depression? Those things don’t go together.”
Oh, but they do. Here are a few lessons about depression we can learn from How The Grinch Stole Christmas:
Depression Is So Much More Than Feeling Sad
“It could be, perhaps, that his shoes were too tight. It could be his head wasn’t screwed on just right.”
For people who have never been depressed, it may be difficult to understand that depression is more than just feeling blue. Feeling sad, or blue, or down, may be the understatement of the century when describing depression. Sadness may be part of it for sure. Intense low mood coupled with feelings of hopelessness and helplessness are hallmarks of depression. Other markers of depression include lack of interest in the things we used to enjoy, fatigue, changes in eating patterns, poor concentration, difficulty making decisions, and loss of energy. And – like the Grinch – periods of depression can come with intense irritability. After all, when you feel a pervasive sense of awful, sometimes things irritate you.
Your Mindset Matters
“But I think that the most likely reason of all May have been that his heart was two sizes too small. But, whatever the reason, his heart or his shoes, He stood there on Christmas Eve hating the Whos” What we feel influences what we do and what we think. What we do influences what we feel and what we think. And what we think influences what we feel and what we do. Making changes to any one of those – feeling, doing, thinking – shifts the others. For example, when the Grinch chose to pay attention to the Whos response to the arrival of Christmas morning without all of the Who pudding, pop guns, pampoogas, pantookas, drum and roast beast, the way he felt began to change. The way he acted shifted. By attending to the positive connection of the community, he was able to shift how he felt.
This is not to say that you should just think your way out of depression. Quite frankly, that’s simplistic and misses the complexity of depression. For example, I am sure there were intense social and economic realities that the Grinch faced which contributed to his mood. And I have no information about his family history and genetic contributions to his mood issues. However, when we experience depression, our mindset can focus heavily on the negative, which also contributes to low mood. Mindful attention paid to things that contradict the negative can help ease some of the burden.
Cave Living is Detrimental to Your Health
“Staring down from his cave with a sour, Grinchy frown At the warm lighted windows below in their town”
The Grinch’s choice of living space, a cave on the top of a mountain, seems like the perfect foundation of a depressed state. It’s dark and it’s isolated. Both factors may contribute to depression. Let’s look at both.
Darkness: Lack of sunlight can lead to Vitamin D deficiency. Vitamin D, also known as the sunshine vitamin, is produced by our bodies when we are exposed to the sun. We have Vitamin D receptors in the areas of our brains that help regulate behavior and emotion. We take in some amount of it through our diets in foods like fatty fish, milk, and egg yolks. However, the sun is key and for those living in climates that have little sunlight through the winter months, Vitamin D deficiency is common. Vitamin D deficiency has been linked to depression. Research is still being done to determine if the deficiency causes depression or vise versa. But it has shown a correlation and that people with depression have experienced promising results in increasing Vitamin D through supplements and through light therapy.