During the holidays, there’s an overwhelming sense that we should be happy. Christmas carols are sung, decorations are put up, family and friends reunite and people swap gifts. All of these activities can be wonderful, joyous things. But for many of us, they’re not—and that’s okay.
There are lots of reasons the holidays can be difficult, notably the fact that it feels like everyone expects you to be ‘happy’ and have the Christmas spirit. But if we’re honest, that’s not always possible.
The holidays are a time when grief comes to the forefront. If we have lost a loved one, recently or in years past, we remember them all the more clearly when they’re not celebrating with us.
If a relationship has broken down with our spouse or significant other, Christmas can be an awkward time. We feel lonely, and disappointed that our life isn’t going the way we planned. If the relationship has affected children or extended family, this becomes even more paramount, as they try to maintain a congenial relationship with both parties.
Having to see an ex over the holidays, or feeling like you must ‘share’ your family with them makes the season fraught with tension.
If a loved one is experiencing a debilitating illness like dementia, depression or chronic fatigue, the need to care for them can take over any festive spirit we have. We wrestle with anxiety, frustration and anger, desperately trying to give them a wonderful Christmas experience at the expense of our own.
Or if we are ill, we are simply unable to join in the celebrations or enjoy them in any capacity. Whether we’re stuck at home, are in hospital, or are consumed by thoughts or feelings of anxiety, we feel isolated and lonely.
Throw in elements such as distance, monetary stress, estranged relationships with the family, trauma and work pressure, and this season can fall well short of the ‘happiest time of the year’ everyone boasts about.
So where does this leave those of us who don’t feel festive, but are expected to celebrate anyway?
It’s important you know it’s okay to feel broken this season. If you feel pressure to ‘get over it’ and your loved ones don’t understand your struggle, you don’t have to justify it to them. Recognise that your experience is just as valid as the friend who sings Christmas carols at the top of their lungs. Accept that your holiday season looks different to theirs, and know it’s okay.
When we accept our own brokenness and pain, we are able to work through it.
If you are grieving, use the holidays as a tribute to a loved one you miss. Visit their grave, or do their favourite activity in remembrance of them.
If you are heartbroken, allow yourself to cry, and then feel the love of your friends and family.
If your loved one is ill, give yourself permission to rest for a moment before you continue caring for them.
If conflict arises and there is no easy resolution, table the issue and give yourself permission to tackle it in the new year.
If you are alone, volunteer, attend a local church service, or a find a community group to belong to for the day.
If you are sick, love your mind and your body for what it does bring to Christmas Day—you. And despite the confines illness puts you in, give yourself permission to smile if you feel like it.
If the holidays are difficult time for you, tell a friend why. You don’t have to explain your feelings to the whole family or friendship group, but by opening up to a person you trust—someone who is empathetic and understands—you will find strength to get through the season.
If you find yourself in a crisis during the day, call a 24/7 hotline (find a list of international hotlines here).
It is okay to feel broken this holiday season, so be gracious with yourself. You can survive this Christmas, and you will.