What to Do if You are Struggling this Holiday Season

During my clinical supervision with psychology grad students I tell them to be prepared for an influx of client breakdowns around the holidays. First year students tend to give me a puzzled look – What’s so tough about the holidays? But then right around middle of December they come back to me saying, “I just had 4 family crises and 3 of my clients no-showed for therapy this week!?!” I nod and say, “Now do you believe me that the holiday-breakdown really does exist?”

If you happen to be one of the million Americans white-knuckling it from Thanksgiving to New Years, then this post is my Christmas gift to you.

Why the heck are the holidays so tough?

At first glance the holidays seem like the happiest time of year. Kids are out of school and most businesses close down so there’s no homework and meetings to drudge through. You get to spend more time with family and exchange gifts with the ones you love. Not to mention all the delicious food that seems to be everywhere. Dream come true, right?

These are all wonderful things that can bring great joy to our lives, BUT there’s some fine print we forget to read.

In order for you to spend time with family, you first need to have a loving, supportive family you want to spend time with. Those gift exchanges require you to have money to buy the gifts for all the ones you love (and don’t forget the people you have mixed feelings about). You may also be a little surprised by the hefty grocery bill that comes with all the delicious food and alcohol you want to pair with your holiday gatherings.

In other words, you may be reminded of all the things you are lacking or missing in your life.

Come December it may feel like someone is shining a bright light on all your personal, professional, and financial struggles. When you don’t have the loving family or the finances then you might feel waves of sadness, anger, resentment, and loneliness. Please know that whatever you are feeling it is completely NORMAL. And no matter what underlies your current struggles, there are ways you can help you get through your holiday blues.

1. Have hope that it will get better. Thankfully this is only a season of your life – it is not the entire year. Whatever you are feeling in this very moment will change. The holidays will pass and life will resume back to “normal.”

2. Remember there are a lot of other people feeling very similar to yourself. You may not realize how many other people are struggling with similar issues, but believe me when I say there are so many people who know exactly what you are going through. That’s why I always encourage people to reach out to friends and family during these tough times. You may learn that that others feels the same way and this can help you feel more connected and normalize your experience.

3. Limit your intake of social media or avoid it all together. If you are feeling bah humbug then you may want to limit how often you scroll through photos of happy families posing for holiday cards, children on Santa’s lap, and beautifully decorated Christmas trees. It’s important to recognize the images that leave you feeling less than. Think of your social media break as a gift to yourself.

4. Volunteer or donate your time. One of my favorite events Kelly and I did last Christmas was bake cookies for the Ronald McDonald House (thank you Steph of Orangespoken for coordinating!). This year Kelly’s gym (Orangetheory Fitness) ran a toy drive for children in foster homes and it was a huge success! The simple act of buying a gift or making food for a child in need can help put things into perspective and remind us how much we have to be grateful for.

5. If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em! Even the Grinch’s cold heart grew three sizes when he found the true meaning of Christmas! Instead of avoiding the holiday cheer, try jumping head first into the holiday festivities. Watch a Christmas parade, listen to children singing carols, build a snowman, string up lights, make cookies, or jam our to your favorite holiday tunes on the radio. These things can get us out of our negative mindset and remind us to just have fun.

6. Remember the true meaning of the holidays. The goal of the holidays is to spend time with the people we love, whatever that looks like for us. If you aren’t feeling connected to family at this moment then I encourage you to put a little love out into the world. It can be as simple as saying complimenting a stranger, or holding the door for someone, or saying “Happy Holidays.” These small acts of kindness may be exactly what you and someone else need.


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