When the Holidays Hurt: 5 Ways to Cope During a Difficult Season

by Dee Rene I prepare for the holidays like I’m bracing for impact: Buckle down. Grin and bear i...

by Dee Rene

I prepare for the holidays like I’m bracing for impact: Buckle down. Grin and bear it. It’ll be over soon. Although I enjoy the excuse to eat too many sweets, the holidays often hurt for a multitude of reasons. A few years ago, one of my favorite family members passed away, leaving a noticeable empty seat at the table and missing dessert from the spread. Thanksgiving dinner is now cut short, as everyone dashes out for Black Friday sales. Or, like this year, I had to return a gift for a boyfriend turned ex right as the holidays rolled into town.


And as I struggle with depression, it seems that the weight of the year and all that has happened (or didn’t happen) usually makes its descent during this time. Thus, ‘tis the season to pass me the cookies and leave me alone. No matter how much I enjoy the people that love me, or am filled with gratitude because alive, or show up for the annual family Christmas Eve game night—I would rather the holidays come and go as soon as possible. And with them, the pressure of gifts and mandatory cheer would leave for another season.

This year, I’ve finally accepted that doesn’t make me a grinch. It’s perfectly acceptable to dislike the holiday shenanigans and still be a healthy, functioning, grateful person inside. Many of us find ourselves lacking “cheer” during the holidays, as the season can be confusing, guilt-inducing, and stressful. We all have down times; yours just happens to be during the “most wonderful time of the year.”

Here are a few tips to make it through.

1. Recognize you are in pain.

It can be as simple as saying, “I am experiencing pain because _________.” Whether it sounds silly, ungrateful, negative or any other host of emotions, call it out. Too often we deny what we’re feeling and tell ourselves that we should be feeling differently because everyone else seems to be experiencing the holidays in a positive way.

You can’t process through what you won’t face. Give yourself the space to be lonely, sad, stressed, etc. Remind yourself it is okay to be down right now. Don’t force yourself into fake positivity. Sometimes you just have to let yourself be sad temporarily and be okay with that time. When I notice myself getting down, I decline invites and do an activity that brings me back to center—like journaling or working out. rather than fighting myself to just “cheer up.” The more time I spend doing something non-holiday related, the easier it is to crawl out of the hole and potentially spend some time engaging in the festivities. (Or not.)

It’s also important to be mindful that you aren’t trying to carry the weight of your feelings alone, especially if you struggle with depression. Seek help and support from others, if the weight of it all becomes too heavy. And lastly, remember the holiday season is temporary. You can and will make it through.

2. Draw boundaries. No matter what.

Learn to say no. Learn to say “I need _________,” and stand firmly by whatever fills that blank. Do not compromise your need for self-care because it makes others uncomfortable or they find it inconvenient. Get in touch with yourself and be okay with what healthy self-care looks like for you during this time—including being alone, seeing a therapist, or whatever else you may need.

There are many ways to draw boundaries to make this time easier. Perhaps you get down during the holidays for financial reasons. Try setting a spending limit or establishing a no gift policy with loved ones. If you’re grieving the loss of a friend, partner, or family member, it is okay to decline the party invite if you know all that you need is quiet time. If you’re feeling lonely, it may be a good time to unplug from social media Instead, find other ways to connect with others. Drawing boundaries will help keep your sanity.

3. Stop feeling guilty about your need to take care of yourself.

Guilt is a heavy emotion. But it’s also one that we can choose to put down at any time. Do not feel guilty for experiencing hurt, pain, anger, resentment and more during the holidays. It’s your truth at this moment. Only you know the depth of what you’re encountering during this time. Maybe there’s nothing anyone can do about it, because you just have to it ride out until January. That has to be acceptable without the added pressure to keep explaining yourself or trying to accommodate everyone else.

External pressures and expectations urge us to jump into social situations to push ourselves forward. There is a time and a place for that, but listen to yourself to figure out when that might be for you. Be patient with your process of getting through the holidays, knowing some days will be better than others. Forgive yourself for not being full of holiday cheer. Be a friend to yourself, not an enemy. And then act accordingly.

4. Choose healthy ways to cope.

Although you are encouraged to get in touch with yourself to determine your own needs, keep in mind to only participate in what is beneficial to your well-being. Drinking excessively or taking drugs, spending exorbitant amounts of money, or laying in bed without eating or showering for days on end are not healthy ways to cope. Don’t dwell for too long on negative thoughts. Remember: you’re trying to find ways to manage the holidays; not giving up. Coping means finding a way to function and take care of yourself, despite the pain you may be experiencing.

5. Rewrite the narrative.

An important part of surviving this season is how we talk to ourselves. Rather than telling yourself how much you hate the holidays and how much it hurts, try a few mantras of affirmation. Change your thoughts from “I hate the holidays,” to “I can get through this season and enjoy it.” Speak positivity into this difficult time and watch your ability to face the days begin to change. Find gratitude in the small things. If you’re financially stressed or lonely, volunteer for an organization that serves those in need. Practice meditation. Participate in non-holiday themed fun. These are a few of the many things you can do, and this small change can help shift your perspective. Maybe one day you can not only survive this time of year, you can thrive during it as well.

As I make time to go through the steps above above, I find that although I never reach full-on cheer, I do find it easier to deal with this season each year. And most importantly, I’m okay with admitting it’s a hard couple of months for me. Thus, I use the time to rebuild, reflect, and remerge feeling better in January.

That’s possible for you too. Here’s hoping when all is said and done, you can come out of this with a new narrative about what the holidays mean to you.

Photo: Shutterstock

Dee Rene is a connoisseur of snacks and brunch. Her focus is holding onto faith in all the things that make us laugh, cry and cuss. Follow her on Twitter: @deerene_ or read more at http://laughcrycuss.com.

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