It’s the most wonderful time of the year… unless it isn’t.  And for so many of us this time of year is painful.  Even though the season suggests we be merry and bright we are still dealing with all the difficulty of life, the loss of your job, a marriage on the rocks, the loss of a loved one, the reality of another season of expectation and wonder where you aren’t expecting or welcoming a baby into the world, a disconnected relationship with your kids, painful childhood memories of Christmases that never were, family discord, the list here is `endless.  Life is difficult even, if not especially, during the holidays.  The anticipation of the holiday season would be bad enough, but you can’t escape it.  Signs of its impending arrival lurk at every turn and seem to come earlier and earlier each year.  So what can you do this holiday season to get you through what may very well be the most painful time of the year?      

  1. Acknowledge it to yourself.  Really spend some time with your feelings and thoughts about the “why” this season feels like it does.  Are there parts you are dreading?  Are there parts you feel excited about?  Do you feel like you have the freedom to be what and how you need to be?  
  2. Acknowledge to another.  Share how you are feeling with someone safe.  It is absolutely ok for this to be a difficult time of year.  For many it isn’t, but most people have had a season (or twenty) where it has been difficult and will be able to relate to what you are going through.  Sometimes there is relief just in not suffering in silence.  
  3. Ask what it is that you need.  Ask yourself if you really should be alone?  Ask if going to this party is going to send you into a bad place?  Do what is good for you and do not do what isn’t good for you.  This seems obvious but this season can be full of trying to meet others expectations.  There can be a lot of managing what others want from you during the holiday season.  You need to make sure you are not putting yourself in situations that will add difficulty to your already difficult season  It is ok to not go to that party, even though you are supposed to, and it is ok to ask someone to be with you when you don’t want to be alone.  You are allowed to do what is good for you.  
  4. Allow yourself the gift of being honest with yourself.  If you are sad and feel like crying, cry.  And if you are giddy and feel like skipping, skip.  And if you just can’t bring yourself to feel any feelings at all, acknowledge to yourself that feeling feels like too much right now and check back in with yourself later.  

If you are having a difficult season, know you are not alone.  As the cards full of beautiful, perfectly in tact, and ever growing families begin to come in, take a deep breath and know you are not alone.  The best thing you can do is be honest with yourself and the people you can trust about how you are actually feeling this season.  It is ok to be merry and bright.  And it is ok to feel angry and sad.  Much of the distress we experience related to our emotions is in the attempt to deny we are having them.  The most important thing you can be to get you through this holiday season (and all your days) is to be honest.  

—- Erin Mitchell, MACP and Stephen Mitchell, PhD