How To Cope When The Holidays Aren’t Exactly Happy

U.S. Army Photo by Sgt. Joshua Edwards

Editor’s Note: This article written by Susie Moore was originally published on Greatist, a digital publication committed to happy and healthy lifestyle choices.  

I woke up alone on Christmas morning.

The silence in my apartment felt unnervingly loud as I lay in bed, staring at the ceiling. “‘What’s different about today anyway?” I asked myself. “It’s just another day. Christmas is an overhyped commercial holiday. Ha! Those poor suckers, swiping their credit cards at stores with those dumb plastic decorations on display. Oh, and it’s for kids. Seriously. There’s nothing to be sad about, is there? So just get up and make some tea. Shake it off.”

It was the first time in my life I was alone on Christmas day. I was 23. I was separated from my husband and living in Australia, away from my family in the U.K. I felt heavy that morning in 2005 for two reasons. First, I felt sorry for myself, for being alone (as reflected in my defensive inner dialogue). Second, I felt stupid for feeling sorry for myself. It’s no secret that many people in the world had it a lot harder than I did.

Whenever I’m feeling sorry for myself, I veer between “It’s OK to feel down for a while” and “Pull it the f*ck together.” Never have I swung so much between the two than during that holiday. And I know I’m not alone. The holidays are an emotional struggle for a lot of people.

This time of year we remember people we’ve lost, especially the older we get. We think about the people we love who live far away. Perhaps we rue what we cannot afford to do or what we can’t afford to give to others. We might think back on the entire year and feel we have not achieved what we’ve wanted to. It’s melancholic just acknowledging these truths as I write them!

Many of us pause to consider what’s going on in the world beyond our life and the lives of the people we know too, especially given such tragic, recent world events. Universally, it feels as if our hearts are heavy this season.

There’s nothing like the season’s festive messages of peace, love, and togetherness to really make us contemplate our existence, our relationships, and what really matters to us.

If you are struggling this year, take some solace in the fact that no one’s life is perfect. And no one’s Christmas is like the movies. The holiday strain doesn’t discriminate against anyone. It can be the most bittersweet, highly charged time of year (even though that’s the part that we don’t talk about).

If this holiday season is a struggle for you, these six things can help you feel a little better.

1. Accept it's tough.

There’s no sugarcoating it: Sometimes you will feel a little low. Even acknowledging this—that for a day or a few days you might be sad—is freeing. “This too shall pass,” as the old saying goes, is true. Within days you’ll be seeing “New Year, New You!” everywhere you look. Sigh. But take comfort in the fact that life presses on.

2. Do something nice for someone else.

The holiday season is ripe with opportunities to help others (find 41 of them here). It can be anything from volunteering at a local homeless shelter to sending an unexpected holiday card to the older lady down the block. A random act of kindness benefits the giver as much as the receiver (or more so, if you ask me). Or write a thank-you note to someone who helped you this year—a colleague, a teacher, a relative, the barista who serves your latte with a smile every morning (especially those Mondays when you really need it)—anyone.

3. Call an old friend.

Dial someone who's a positive influence in your life, who you know would be delighted to hear from you. You don’t need a reason. Just say, “Hey, this time of year got me thinking of you… How are you?” You’ll be amazed at how this can lift your mood.

4. Treat yourself.

That Christmas morning in Sydney, I went for lunch at my best friend’s family’s house and then bought Vogue—a real indulgence for my budget at the time. I took it to the beach with an iced latte (Christmas is in the summer in Australia). That glossy mag was my gift to myself.

You deserve a gift too. Small or big, the best gifts are the ones you give yourself when you need them most. Treating yourself is an important act of self-care.

5. Focus on what’s going right.

What are three cool things that have happened this year? No matter how troubled your year has been, there is always light when you look for it. Take a friend of mine, who has been ill and is going through a divorce. I pressed her to tell me three positive things that happened in 2015.

She said, “I got my beautiful dog, Georgie. I discovered Wayne Dyer’s books and online lectures. And I don’t care if it’s called the ‘divorce diet,’ but hey, I’ve lost 12 pounds—check out my butt!” We had a good laugh at the last one. There’s always some good. Always. And to quote Dyer, “When you change how you look at things, the things you look at change.”

6. Laugh.

When all else fails, watch a funny movie (not a holiday movie or anything with a sentimental ending). Nothing lifts your spirits and disrupts your negative mental chatter like some hilarity. Try something with Jim Carrey, Eddie Murphy, or Will Ferrell in it. It’s OK to veg out and be lazy this time of year—ask any sane human. Take a couple of hours and watch the silliest movie you know. Even some funny YouTube videos will do the trick.

Remember this: Christmas will be over as soon as it began. You will be back to the daily grind before you know it, and you’ll probably wish you enjoyed the break a little more. So relax and breathe into it, whether you’re alone like I was or surrounded by relatives that challenge you. (And if it’s the latter, try these strategies for coping.)

The year following that lonely holiday, I spent Christmas with my boyfriend (now husband) and his loving, welcoming, warm family. A lot can change in a year. And a new one is nearly here.

This article, “How to Deal When the Holidays Aren't Exactly Happy” originally appeared on Greatist.

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