When the Holidays Hurt (Coping with the Christmas Blues)

When The Holidays Hurt


Such Christmas buzzwords have become synonymous with the season, and with good reason. By design, the holidays are a time of celebration — a perfect opportunity to reflect on the good things in life.

But for many, the stress of the holidays can trigger sadness and depression, exposing a paradox that exists when people feel down at a supposedly “up” time of year. This is otherwise known as…

The Christmas Blues

Mid-October, it begins…

Select merchants air their first holiday-themed TV ads, reminders that the season is upon us even though we have yet to get through Halloween or even the remainder of autumn for that matter.

Early November, it continues…

The air is crisp. We turn back the clocks and break out the fleece. Daylight is suddenly absent from the dinner hour and we feel shortchanged.

After all, wasn’t it just yesterday we had our toes in the sand?

Then, late November descends like a perfect storm, and…

BAM. It’s Black Friday hysteria. Cyber Monday mayhem. Christmas tree sellers crop up all over town, and the pressure is on.

Mariah Carey’s All I Want for Christmas Is You blasts no less than five times an hour from every radio station, supermarket, and retail chain known to man.

Finally, December seals the deal…

Folks bustle about in a flurry of yuletide animation. There’s chatter of things to do. Plans to execute. Places to go. People to see.

Gifts to buy.

Bumper-to-bumper mall-bound traffic becomes part of the daily grind. Parking lots fill to capacity and then some.

I don’t know about you, but I’m exhausted just thinking about this stuff.

But, before I continue…

I want to clarify that it’s not my intent to kill anyone’s Christmas mojo. The truth? I absolutely love the holiday season. And if you do too, that’s wonderful! Nurture that good cheer because it’s a beautiful thing.

However, I must confess…

Years ago, in times of struggle, I sang a different tune.

And it was a far cry from Jingle Bells.

One particular December hit like a knee to the ribs, literally knocking the wind out of me.  A dear friend’s tragic and unexpected passing, coupled with my own health scare, augmented by a company lay-off that put my paycheck-to-paycheck survival on life support, had me questioning everything. Especially my spirituality.

And … Christmas? I couldn’t get with the program, nor did I even want to.

So today, as I ruminate on that experience, my thoughts will-fully linger on those for whom the holidays aren’t so merry.

For those going through a difficult time (and perhaps even for those who aren’t), the onset of Christmas can serve as a reminder of…

Love and loss
Family and estrangement
Community and isolation
Youth and mortality
Health and illness
Wealth and debt
Stability and Imbalance

Anyone who’s endured personal upheaval — the death of a loved one, unemployment, financial straits, an inability to be with family due to separation or alienation — may lack the volition to kick into festive gear when life has so drastically changed.

If you are someone who dreads the holidays, I hope you can take this to heart…

There is nothing wrong with the way you feel.

Hearing things like “smile!” or “where’s your Christmas spirit?” from well-meaning observers may add to your frustration. Which in turn, invites guilt, further exacerbated by the assumption that others don’t share in your malaise.

But the reality is…

Many do. Millions, in fact.

I once read a survey that claimed 45% of Americans would rather skip Christmas. That’s almost half!

What does it mean?

No matter where you fall on the spectrum in terms of personal well-being, the holidays are a time of strong emotions for all.

The silver lining?

You don’t have to resign yourself to a season of misery.

The following tips can help to strip your Christmas Blues into fainter shades of melancholy:

1. Spend Time with Supportive People

If living abroad has put an ocean between you and your family, being with them at Christmas isn’t always feasible.

Feelings of isolation may emerge, intensifying as they ignite that reflexive reaction to navigate the holidays solo.

And that’s not good.


Loneliness feeds on itself.

So while everything in you may want to be alone, it’s important to resist that urge.

Seek company.

Be honest with those you trust. Share your feelings. Most people will appreciate your candor and want to help. Be precise in communicating your needs so you’ll feel less disjointed and more socially connected.

2. Volunteer

Doing something for someone else is fulfilling. It releases tension and keeps you mentally stimulated. It gets you out of your own head, shifting the focus to charitable giving and the plights of those who are less fortunate than you.

It’s also a wonderful way to meet new people, and it strengthens your ties to the community.

Your contributions, no matter how small, will have a direct and positive impact on the lives of others, as well as the greater good of humankind.

If you’re not sure where to start, check with Volunteer Match to find charities in your area that need holiday volunteers.

Each act of selflessness goes a long way … during Christmas and beyond. Why not give it a go year ’round?

3. Don’t Have It? Don’t Spend It

I used to be one of those buy it now, worry later kind of shoppers. And you know what? That adherence to Christmas commercialization stuck me with a pile of credit card debt that took me eons to dig out of.

The year I was unemployed, I couldn’t buy gifts at all. Not one. Household bills sat in organized, unpaid piles on my kitchen counter, and I felt like a failure.

One box of Betty Crocker cookie mix sat in the cupboard. Depressed, I got busy making the cookies, initially to drown my sorrows in sugar and chocolate.

But then it occurred to me that I could give them away as gifts.

Using the snowman-shaped cutters I’d won in the previous year’s Yankee swap, I divvied up the dough, baked the cookies, cellophane-wrapped them in groups of three, and bada bing, bada boom…

People loved them.

Nobody cared that my packages didn’t come with designer names, bells, whistles or expensive price tags.

The best part?

Since then, my family, friends, and I have applied a much more simplistic approach to Christmas presents and gift exchanges in general.

My point?

I’m all for giving gifts, but breaking the bank in order to get the job done isn’t worth it.

If you’re strapped for cash this season, don’t let it add to your stress. Spend only what you can afford. Nothing more.

Remember that old adage…

It’s the thought that counts.

4. Find Meaning in the “Now”

If you’re like the rest of us, you probably hold that Norman Rockwell holiday as the golden standard by which all Christmases are measured. As a kid, perhaps you even experienced one that came close…

Aunt Edna’s china laid graciously upon gold-threaded linens. Mom serving her famous green bean casserole in a fit of giggles as Dad boogies his way from the kitchen with a basket of fresh rolls, belting the refrain to The Little Drummer Boy.

Grandma and Grandpa winking at you from across a candelabra flanked by sparkling glasses of spiced apple cider. Uncle Earl carving that gargantuan honey-glazed ham to mouth-watering applause.

But usually (and this is true for everyone), reality falls short of the fantasy. And no matter how you wish and try, you can’t replicate your childhood experiences, especially if the loss of a loved one has left an empty chair at the holiday table.

But that doesn’t have to torpedo all efforts to find meaning in “this” holiday. With those you hold dear and who are still with you. Right here. Right now.

So rather than approaching Christmas with predictions of the good and the bad…

Try accepting things as they come.

If certain holiday activities seem too daunting, it’s okay to refrain from them. Don’t feel pressure to engage in an all-out brand of celebrating simply because it’s always been the thing to do.

Don’t wanna cook? Then go out to eat.

Not in the mood to entertain? Let someone else take the reins this year.

Dressing up got you down? Then trade the black dress/heel combo for a comfy fashion trifecta, like your favorite cable-knit sweater, relax-fit jeans, and Uggs.

Engage in activities that offer appeal to you. Consider something new, something different. Be creative. Dare to break tradition. Or better yet, start a new one.

The bottom line?

You’re entitled to celebrate Christmas in a way that feels right and manageable to you. There’s much to be said for keeping things simple. And if a hint of yuletide acknowledgement is all you can muster this time around, that’s okay too.

And keep in mind…

You don’t have to be “jolly” 24/7.

Have realistic expectations, and forget about the ones the commercial world presents to you.

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By S.A.Healey

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