In our lives, there are many holidays, or
"special days," such as birthdays,
anniversaries, graduations, weddings and Easter to name a
few. These are difficult days for some of us and it seems
that the most difficult holiday of the year is Christmas.
This day more than any other means "family
together." They are synonymous, and it is at this
time we are so acutely aware of the void in our life.
We continually hear Christmas carols; people wishing
everyone "Merry Christmas" and so on. Feelings
of isolation and loneliness can magnify during these times
of warmth and cheer.
I myself have spent one Christmas alone as well as a
few Thanksgivings. Certain members in my extended family
(which is a large family) felt that I had too many
problems to be included. It is not uncommon for family
members to avoid us when our lives aren't going well. It
doesn't hurt any less however.
I remember that same Christmas, my father actually sent
out Christmas cards to all the members in the family - all
my cousins, my aunt and uncle...everyone but me, his own
daughter. Ouch! I was "bad" because I could not
get my life together and I believed that lie at the time.
to Handle the Pain of the Holidays
Dr. Calvin Frederick, formerly of the National
Institute of Mental Health, estimates that there is a 15%
increase (this number may have increased) in the number of
people seeking professional help during the holiday
season. He suggests several things you can do to help
raise your spirits.
- 1. First, stop putting unreasonable pressure on
yourself to be happy during the holidays. When you have
legitimate reasons for being happy, acknowledge them and
be gentle with yourself.
- 2. You may find your mood improves when youíre in the
company of special friends and favorite relatives -
especially those who accept your full range of feelings
and donít put pressure on you to be other than who you
are. So seek out people who make you feel better, and
avoid people who contribute to your depression.
- 3. Make an effort to be more physically active.
Physical activity is one of the best ways to make yourself
feel better. Recent research indicates that exercise
stimulates the production of endorphins, mood-elevating
chemicals produced by the body. Take a walk, go to the
gym, get out in the country, or take on a project that
calls for physical activity.
- 4. Many people regain control and their equilibrium
when they set on or two specific, manageable goals every
day - even if they are as simple as cleaning out a closet
or drawer or writing a letter. The satisfaction they get
from completing these tasks adds to their sense of well -
being and self - respect.
- 5. Watch your intake of alcohol. While a few drinks may
make you feel temporarily euphoric, alcohol is a
depressant and often ends up making you feel worse than
If you are having trouble sleeping, have lost your
appetite, have continuing thoughts of hopelessness and
despair, seeking professional help may be wise
Listed below are some ideas and suggestions that others
have found helpful in coping with the holiday season.
Choose the ones that help you.
- 1. Family get-togethers may be difficult. Be honest
with each other about your feelings. Sit down with your
family and decide what you want to do for the holiday
season. Donít set expectations too high for yourself or
for the day. If you wish things to be the same, you are
going to be disappointed. Do things a little differently.
Undertake only what each family member can handle
comfortably. Initiate activity yourself; do not wait for
- 2. There is no right or wrong way to handle the day.
Some may wish to follow family traditions, while others
may choose to change.
- 3. Keep in mind the feelings of your children and/or
family members. Try to make the holiday season as joyous
as possible for them.
- 4. Be careful of "shoulds" - it is better to
do what is most helpful for you and your family. If a
situation looks especially difficult over the holidays,
donít get involved if possible.
- 5. Set limitations. Realize that it isnít going to be
easy. Do the things that are very special and /or
important to you. Do the best you can.
- 6. Once you have made the decision on the role you and
your family will play during the holidays, let your
relatives and friends know. Time spent by yourself can
also be rewarding.
- 7. Baking goodies and cleaning the house can get out of
proportion. If these chores are enjoyable, go ahead, but
not to the point that it is overtiring. Either buy baked
goods, or go without this year.
- 8. If you used to cut down your own tree, consider
buying it already cut this year. Let your children, other
family members, or neighboring teens help with the
decorating of the tree and house. If you choose not to
have a tree, perhaps you could make a centerpiece from the
lower branches of a tree, get a ceramic tree, or a small
- 9. Emotionally, physically and psychologically, the
holidays are draining. You need every bit of strength. Try
to get enough rest and exercise. Be aware of the increased
accessibility of sugar, caffeine, and alcohol during the
holidays and guard against overuse of these substances.
- 10. What you choose to do the first year, you donít
have to do the second year.
- 11. One possibility for the first year may be to visit
friends, relatives, or even go away on a vacation.
Planning, packing, etc. keeps your mind somewhat off the
holiday and you share the time in a different way.
- 12. Some people pretend Nov. 25th is Christmas and try
to get whatever shopping, card writing, etc. done by that
date. This way you can avoid to some degree the carols and
the wishes from clerks and strangers of a "Merry
- 13. If shopping is too much, have your spouse, relative
or close friend help you. Consider shopping through a
- 14. If you are accustomed to have Christmas dinner in
your home, change and go to relatives; or change the time
(instead of 2:00 p.m., make it 4:00 p.m.). Some find it
helpful to be involved in the activity of preparing a
large meal. Serving buffet style and or eating in a
different room may help.
If You are Alone at Christmas
or a Birthday or Special Holiday
As I mentioned above I have been alone at Christmas, a
few Thanksgivings and many birthdays. In my case, I
believe the main reason for my aloneness was that my life
was chaotic and family did not want to be around me.
For me, Christmas was the hardest, as I was not only
facing an ending of a relationship, severe dysphoria
(anxiety, depression, rage and despair), but getting
through the day itself was extremely difficult.
I felt totally rejected, without any self-worth. I
figured if my family didnít want to be around me, that I
was a pretty horrible creature. Some might call this toxic
shame, that I am bad to the core.
I tried to sleep through as much of the day as I could
so I could "miss it." I had a prescription for a
benzodiazepine so I took a little extra to help me sleep.
I cried and slept and cried some more.
My thinking was very black and white at that time. I
felt that the "good people" were the people who
had families that wanted to be around them and the
"bad people" were like me, alone and abandoned.
Here is what I could have done:
- 1. Done something for someone else, such as volunteer
at a soup kitchen, or visiting lonely shut-ins.
- 2. I could have looked for someone before hand who
might also be alone, to share the day with.
- 3. Made phone calls to friends or family that did not
- 4. Call the local crisis line.
- 5. Went for a long walk and really looked at the trees,
- 6. Prayed.
- 7. Attended church.
- 8. Read or watched TV - anything to get my mind off of
- 9. Wrote down my feelings in my journal.
- 10. Screamed into a pillow or ripped up newspaper if it
made me feel better.
- 11. Try to eat and keep my blood sugar up.
- 12. Tried to focus on what I was doing, instead of what
other families were doing.
- 13. I did not drink alcohol on Christmas and my advice
is the same to you. My emotions and feelings were so out
of control that I was afraid to lose more control through
- 14. Paint your home or apartment. Do some project,
especially if it is physical and can keep your mind busy.
Pay your bills, write letters, etc.
- 15. Stay on the computer all day if it helps keep your
mind away from the holidays. Chat with others in the chat
rooms who are also alone. I believe there is a newsgroup
especially designed for holidays.
- 16. If you can, get a pet before the holidays.
One thing that did help was psyching myself out,
telling myself that it was just another day.
Another thing that is important to remember, is that
you may not, like I was, be in good enough emotional shape
to be able to do all the above activities. Thatís all
right. You can only do what you can do. You do not need to
put further guilt upon yourself. Know what your limits
You will find that you will survive this and believe
me, you will be relieved when the holidays are over.
The time when you need your therapist and/or Dr. the
most, is when they are off for the holidays.
I remember what an old friend of mine who was
undergoing a divorce, said about facing his first
Christmas alone. He said "Holidays are cruel and the
people that created them are cruel and mean. This is the
worst time in my life and Iíll be dead before they are
over." Well, he did survive the holidays and the one
after that and the one after that and it got easier.
"When we walk to the edge of all
the light we have, and take
that step into the darkness of
We must believe that one of two
things will happen.
There will be something solid for
us to stand on....or....
We will learn to fly."