From grief to depression, estrangement to pandemic stressors-the holidays can be an unhappy time. Today let’s honor our struggle and work toward self-compassion.

Photo by Anthony Tran on Unsplash

Each year, the holidays can be tinged with sorrow. In my case, this time of year brings up intense grief for my sister, who died when I was 25. Sometimes when I sit with that emotion, I start myself toward a spiral of other regrets and negativity. As a therapist, I know that it is not unusual for holidays to bring up all sorts of pain. The idea that they are focused on family time, celebrating the year, being grateful, or being joyful, can seem like a facade.

The pressure to feel this sort of holiday joy and positivity can be unbearable for many, and the overdoses of holiday cheer may give way to an existential crisis. Around the holidays, and particularly on the actual days of Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah or New Year’s, many of us place a spotlight on how our life has been, how it could have been, or what (or who) is missing.

The act of pretending that our holidays are nothing but joyous can further damage our spirit. Many of my clients are particularly struggling this year.

This year, the Covid-19 pandemic has brought unprecedented angst to everyone around us. We are all feeling the collective anxiety of our communities, our countries, and the world. There have been tragic financial crises…overturned intimate relationships…career loss and restructuring…unsafe job conditions…the burden of homeschooling…loss of loved ones to Covid-19…funerals we are not allowed to have…the fear of getting sick…the fear of dying and leaving our children alone…the list is never-ending. To add these stressors to the holiday season means bringing many of us to our breaking point. What are we to do?

Today I gave myself permission to NOT be okay. In our culture, we are asked to put on a happy face for the holidays. We have so much to be grateful for, they say. And it is true, where I live in the United States, I feel we have a lot to be grateful for. I would offer that this doesn’t mean that we must deny our suffering.

Many of us have been through difficult lives, and the path to healing starts with learning to nurture ourselves. Acknowledging our pain is a step that needs to happen here.

Part of my life’s mission is to teach others to speak gently and kindly to themselves. And for some reason I can’t yet figure out, for most of us, this is not our default setting. If we are going to survive these holidays, we must learn to comfort ourselves.

Today, let’s acknowledge our own suffering. Let’s give ourselves some compassion and kind words. Let’s give ourselves permission to NOT be okay. And let that be okay.

Background photo by Simon Migaj on Unsplash, text by author.