How does the song go again?

“It’s the most wonderful time of the year….”

It’s a common refrain around December, but the sad truth is that for many people Christmas isn’t actually wonderful. For some it’s hardly bearable.

At this time of year, when family, friends and colleagues congregate and celebrate, many people may be keenly feeling the loss – recent or otherwise, of someone dear to them. Perhaps through death, or divorce, or a long distance move. Countless others may be facing yet another year feeling so very alone, whether it be social isolation or a battle with the black hole of depression.

While many of us may be looking back on the past year in self-reflection, and expressing our gratitude for all we’ve achieved and all we have, there are just as many others who are desperately counting down the days until they can say goodbye to 2015, because for whatever reason it was a harsh year for them. Perhaps a business venture failed. Maybe they lost their home. They might have struggled with their health. Or have been deeply betrayed by someone they trusted.

While many of us may be joyously wrapping presents and baking hams on Christmas Eve, there are also those who will look upon the tiny collection of gifts they could barely afford for their children, or the Christmas dinner they bought on credit for their family, through lashings of hot, angry, disappointed and despondent tears. Heartbroken they weren’t able to live up to society’s (or their own) expectations of creating the picture perfect Christmas.

Yes, there are many reasons why a large portion of people look upon Christmas with heartache and dread, rather than joy and laughter.

Christmas isn't always joyful.

Christmas isn’t always joyful.

If this is you. Please know that I feel for you. I truly do.

I know I’m one of the fortunate ones. I’m so privileged to be able to have a roof over my head, a well-stocked fridge and smiling, happy, healthy daughters breathlessly counting down the sleeps until the big day. Although it has been a difficult year for me on a few levels, at this time of year, when I’ve had the chance to slow down, reflect and recalibrate, I’ve been able to truly feel the festive spirit and I know I’m okay.

But if you’re still struggling, if the thought of Christmas breaks your heart or turns your stomach, if you can’t wait to put a pin in 2015 and all it represents, then please take a look at these suggestions for ways to make it through these next few days.

How to cope when Christmas is hard.

1)  Recognise how you’re feeling.

Admit out loud to yourself that Christmas is going to be hard, or that you’re actually dreading it – be honest with how you’re feeling and why. Write it all down in a journal. Confide in a trusted friend. Pray to your God, or talk to a mentor, religious leader, or even call a crisis support hotline such as Lifeline if you can’t find – or don’t want to talk to – someone you know about this. But don’t try to fake it – don’t try to force yourself to feel merry if you don’t. Allow yourself to be sad, if you’re sad. Be angry, if you’re angry. Feel grief if you’re grieving. Be honest. With yourself and others. People will understand. They may not know exactly how to respond or support you. But they will understand.

2) Know that you are not alone.

My gosh, you are so not alone. There are thousands of people out there who share your feelings on Christmas. In fact, Lifeline estimates it will take 27,000 phone calls this festive season. That’s 27,000 other people also struggling at Christmas. You may not see them, because so many people haven’t undertaken step number one – they’re hiding how they truly feel, for one reason or another. Society’s notion of Christmas as a happy time of celebration and joy is a strong cultural line – it takes a brave person to put their hand up and say “that’s not how I feel about Christmas”. Which is why step one is so important. Honest communication is an integral step when it comes to addressing our feelings and working our way out of them. By admitting how you feel, you might be surprised at how many others tell you they’re feeling the same. You’re not alone. You’re not he only one who feels this way. Even if it feels like you are. Please trust that others are feeling the same way as you too.

3) Accept it – and let it go.

This one can be the hardest. Sometimes we rail so hard against any feelings of unpleasantness, we believe we need to feel happy or good all the time. Aren’t we supposed to be joyful – shouldn’t we do everything we can to fight against any negative emotions? Especially at Christmas time – our old companion, guilt, can get hold of us. “Look at everything you have, you have no right to feel this way, you should be ashamed of yourself for being so miserable at Christmas.” And how do we respond? By beating ourselves up – fighting against ourselves and our thoughts and emotions. Berating ourselves whenever despair or anger crosses our minds.

The trouble with this is that the more you wrestle with pain and anger and fear and hate, the more they will pull you under. Just like quicksand.

For this reason, acceptance is a powerful tool. When I talk about “acceptance”, I’m not referring to “resignment” or giving up – it is not about taking a blanket “whatever” attitude to everything, and accepting every little thing that goes wrong, as your lot in life. By accepting how you feel about Christmas today, it doesn’t mean you are giving up on ever feeling joyful or festive ever again.

What it IS about, is about making room in your mind for the unpleasant feelings and sensations that come with negative events you can’t control. It’s about accepting that you’re going to have these feelings, and letting your body experience them, without struggling against them or constantly questioning them, so that you can experience them and let them go.

The next step on from acceptance is about figuring out what you’re really comfortable with leaving the way it is and what it is that you’d like to change from your current state. Then moving forward and taking action on those changes. But perhaps, Christmas isn’t the easiest time to undertake this second step. At this point, it’s okay to just accept, let go, and commit to moving on a little bit later once the holidays are behind you.

Finally…

As always, dealing with major issues in our lives is never as easy as a three step guide you find on the internet. Ultimately, it’s up to you to be aware of how you’re feeling and whether you can move through this on your own, or perhaps whether you need a bit more support. From family, friends, or a professional, such as a counsellor or mental health clinician.

This holiday season certainly has the ability to stir up many wounds and emotions, some often thought to be long forgotten. So please be gentle with yourself these holidays. You’re only human after all.

Until next time,

Sarah xx

Please always remember that Lifeline is always available to people in need of someone to talk to when you feel like you need support. Call their hotline on 13 11 14 to speak to a trained counsellor 24 hours a day.

For those of you in a more festive place this season, perhaps you might be willing to support Lifeline by donating to their Christmas Appeal. Your donation might mean that a few extra calls get taken this year.

(Please note, this isn’t a sponsored post for Lifeline, but having volunteered for them previously I’m a huge fan of their work.)