Encouragement For When The Holidays Aren’t Always Happy

posted by Andrea | 12/6/2018

Despite the perfectly happy holiday cheer we see in magazines, on TV, on the internet, or in any local mall, the holiday season is often a bittersweet time of year for so many people.

Maybe it’s financial pressure to buy the biggest, best, and most gifts, leaving you in a pile of debt every year — one that takes months to finally crawl out of again.

Maybe it’s a job you hate — especially this time of year when you’re expected to work over-time, weekends, holidays, etc. and miss out on all the fun activities you wish you could be doing instead.

Maybe it’s a recent death (or military deployment or long-distance move) and the realization that certain special people will not be celebrating with you this year.

Maybe it’s rebellious children or nasty relatives who make holiday gatherings miserable.

Maybe it’s too many life changes (new baby, new job, loss of a job, moving, new schools, new routine, etc. etc.) that leave you dreading all the “extras” associated with this time of year, wondering how you can possibly fit anything else into your busy schedule.

Maybe it’s legal issues, adoption delays, medical testing results, or other situations completely out of your own control that leave your anxiety high as you anticipate new information, updates, and decisions.

Maybe it’s mental, physical, emotional, or spiritual wounds that simply prevent you from experiencing joy, peace, happiness, and fulfillment like you have in the past.

Whatever the case, I know this time of year will be especially hard for you.

If I’m being really honest, I don’t have much experience with the listed items above… but I know they exist, and I know they can completely over-shadow everything else going on this time of year.

It’s unfortunate, but it’s also reality. 

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If you find yourself nodding in agreement with my list above, I hope to provide a tiny bit of encouragement for you today.

1. Know that you are not alone.

There ARE others who feel the same way you do right now — if you can find them, it will do you a world of good (THIS I definitely know from experience!)

Contact local support groups, churches, therapists, counselors, hospitals, etc. and see if there are programs in your area that allow you to reach out to others who are in the same situation.

And yes, I realize the act of ‘reaching out’ probably doesn’t appeal to most people in these situations — so if you know someone in a bad or hurting place this holiday season, look around, do a little research on their behalf, and see if you can’t introduce them to someone, a group, a program, etc.

It might be the best gift you can give them this year!

2. Expect this year to be and feel different.

Expectations play such a HUGE role in our happiness… if we go into the holiday season EXPECTING everything to be happy, perfect, smiley, fun, enjoyable, etc. we WILL be disappointed (I guarantee it)!

However, if we go into the season embracing and expecting that things WILL be different, we can often save ourselves so much heartache and disappointment.

Realize that parts of the holidays will be very difficult.

Expect your experiences to be different than in previous years (some good, some not so good).

Expect that you will have a wide range of emotions… and you’ll probably feel sad and lonely at times.

Embrace the fact that you most likely won’t enjoy specific parties or events like you have in past years… you might not even want to attend those parties and events in the first place. That’s OK!

Of course, I’m not saying we should expect the season to be awful, but I do believe having realistic expectations for ourselves, our family, and our holiday season can do a world of good when we are sad, hurting, or not emotionally healthy.

3. Consider doing something totally different.

Last week, I shared how Dave and I essentially “skipped” Thanksgiving due to sick children that no one else wanted to be around.

It was a VERY different Thanksgiving weekend for use (we ate grilled cheese and tomato soup and then did yard work most of the afternoon) but it was still relaxing and enjoyable, and still a welcome break from our normal school-time routine.

That got me thinking about how much of the holidays are driven by “routines” and doing the same things we do EVERY SINGLE YEAR, just because we are expected to do them EVERY SINGLE YEAR.

Well, maybe this year is YOUR year to “skip” part of the holidays and just do something totally different — like eat grilled cheese and do yard work!

If you know a specific part of the holiday season is going to be extra difficult or emotional for you this year, why not just skip it and do something totally different instead?

  • Ditch your traditional holiday menu for pizza, Chinese take-out, grilled cheese, or anything else you enjoy eating.
  • Skip the party or event you know will cause unnecessary emotions to surface.
  • Abandon traditions that aren’t working for your current season of life and don’t let yourself feel guilty.
  • Stay home instead of going out — or go out instead of staying home. Whatever fits YOUR preferences better this year.
  • Celebrate on a random day — if December 25 is hard or challenging for you, just choose a different random day to celebrate instead.

4. Remember the real reason for the holiday season.

I’m often caught off guard by how many people brush over the religious aspects of the holiday season in pursuit of finding the best gifts, reserving the most desirable venue, making mouth-watering foods, and coordinating the perfect outfits for holiday cards.

Yes, I can relate! I too enjoy finding new recipes for various parties, sending out our holiday cards, and catching up with relatives I only see once a year. However, I think we often put too much pressure on ourselves to make things perfect… or at least better than last year!

As Christians, we know life will not always be perfect or happy or easy, BUT we also know God is always with us — especially during rough periods of time when we feel like we’re alone or that no one understand what we’re going through. Take comfort in that truth, and embrace the real reason for this special season.

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Of course, there is never a one-size-fits-all approach to these situations that cause difficult or less-happy holidays for so many people.

However, if you find yourself even more unhappy or emotionally drained this time of year, I hope a few of the thoughts presented in today’s post will offer some much-needed encouragement or, at the very least, the realization that you are not the only person who feels this way… and it’s OK to feel how you feel.

The start of another New Year is just around the corner – a chance to start fresh will be here before you know it!

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31 comments

  1. Heather

    12/11/2018

    Gosh, I love everything about this post. Empathy and compassion in spades. I wish more people bothered to address this. The holidays are a horribly painful time for so so many people. Thank you for recognizing that, Andrea.

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    Andrea Reply:

    Thanks so much Heather!

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  2. Kim

    12/09/2018

    I think this is my favorite post of yours ever. ❤️

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    Andrea Reply:

    Awww… thanks Kim!

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  3. Mara B

    12/07/2018

    This was a wonderful post, thank you!

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  4. Nancy Pease

    12/07/2018

    Hi Andrea. Thanks for this reminder. Also, churches may offer Blue Christmas services. It’s a quiet and reflective service for people who grieve during this season.

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    Andrea Reply:

    interesting — I’ve actually never heard of this before! Smart though!

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  5. L

    12/07/2018

    I’ve had all different kinds of holidays over my long life- some good, some interesting. Being a new widow, with no kids or close family nearby, I know that many people are concerned about my holiday plans, etc. and are feeling pity for me. I am pretty OK. Christmas will not be worse than any other day, really, and to awkwardly be invited to someone’s house would be much more painful than quietly reading and enjoying peace and some memories. It seems like it is more about meeting their needs rather than mine. People say such strange things, about how I must be feeling, but I know they mean well in their way. But, I agree: THINK before you say something to someone in tough circumstance! How does it help anyone to say “You must feel so terrible and be so lonely”? Then I am forced to reassure them! Smiling and nodding are good strategies! Let’s just calm down about the whole Christmas thing! I think we know that it isn’t actually the birthday of Jesus, which was in the spring, but I find the commercialism and forced cheer appalling. One thing I AM doing is contributing more to the local causes and programs like giving more to the food pantries, contributing to programs like “buy a foster kid a present” and “buy a nursing home resident a present”, socks and gloves for the shelters, etc. I will make plans to travel for future holidays, I think!

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  6. Jennifer

    12/06/2018

    This year we are taking a huge leap and setting sail in one week from the Texas coast to the east coast of Florida, about 800 miles which will take 5-7 days. We’re so excited to finally live out a part of our sailing dreams and at a time of year that is usually quite hectic for us with both of our sets of parents divorced and remarried. We made the rounds for Thanksgiving and feel so relieved to be free for Christmas. Maybe we’ll start a yearly distant sailing tradition.

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  7. Heather

    12/06/2018

    As always Andrea, thought-provoking and empathetic post. Enough to say, I look forward to your posts every day, and your blog is one of very very few that I follow.

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    Andrea Reply:

    Thanks so much Heather!

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  8. Natalia

    12/06/2018

    Beautiful post! Thank you!

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  9. Margaret

    12/06/2018

    Yes, yes, and yes. Most of my circle knows that I was completely alienated from my (now dead) abusive family, and a lot of people have tried to “include” me over the years. While I REALLY appreciate the thought, I learned pretty quickly to say no, for several reasons.
    First, I am a true introvert, and am always happy alone. Second, being included in someone else’s family gathering just underlined the fact that I didn’t have one of my own.Third, some members of the group you’re invited to may not be completely on board with including outsiders, and that’s uncomfortable. And last, who wants to be an object of pity?
    So I’ll take my dogs for a nice hike, and be thankful that my nightmare childhood is over. It’s okay. Really.

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    Andrea Reply:

    enjoy your dogs and the great outdoors Margaret!
    I appreciate you sharing your perspective — I’m positive it will be helpful for others reading this post!

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  10. Crystal

    12/06/2018

    I LOVE & appreciate so much every single word of this…
    ❤️

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    Andrea Reply:

    Thanks Crystal

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  11. Beth

    12/06/2018

    The reason for Christmas is Jesus’ birth. That is good to focus on. I like your article. I find it encouraging.

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  12. Rhonda

    12/06/2018

    #5 could be “Don’t ask every person you meet if they are “ready for Chrismas/The Holidays”. I hear it almost every day and it just makes me feel even more stressed out, or that I SHOULD have more to “get ready” for.

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    Andrea Reply:

    Yeah, it’s sort of just one of those things people say… like “so, are you ready for kids yet” right after people get married, or “is she sleeping through the night yet” when the baby is a month old!
    It’s annoying (believe me, I know!), but I honestly think WE just need to realize these people are not trying to be negative, but probably just trying to make conversation. Just smile, nod, and don’t let it get to you.

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    Rhonda Reply:

    True, it’s really one of those “small talk” subjects. Some people may not even really be interested in the answer (if it’s someone you don’t know). It’s just weather talk, and I shouldn’t let it amplify my anxiety (which during December is my “super fancy Christmas anxiety”, instead of my “regular anxiety”).

    And yes, it does remind me of those questions I used to get “when are you going to have another kid”? My husband came up with a good (comical, of course) response to that when people asked him – his response was “when I get another wife.” 🙂 Ha!

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  13. Kulturschnepfe

    12/06/2018

    This might seem strange, but if you know someone is alone during the holidays, don’t assume they are lonely. I like spending those days on my own, they are wonderful for “recharging my batteries”, and though I realize that it is meant as a kind gesture, I don’t want to be invited to other people’s festivities.

    I have been invited a few times – saying no kindly was awkward, it was awkward for the other person, too – they even might have felt a little insulted. Saying yes, going to their parties or dinners, might have been a good experience. But more often than not, when I have said yes, I spent my time feeling like the odd one out. I’m too much of an introvert to just join any group and be happy.

    Test the waters cautiously if you feel like inviting somebody, but don’t be mad or disappointed if they decline. Any which way, thank you for being kind to strangers/introverts. 😀

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    JJ Reply:

    I was just going to ask about this! At Target yesterday, I was caught off guard when I asked the cashier if he was getting ready for Christmas. He said, “I don’t really have to get ready.” He looked down sadly, and I felt so badly for asking what seemed a sore topic. He said he had no family here, and he trailed off. I told him we had no family nearby, either. I want to do something to give him some Christmas cheer, but Target has a policy about giving employees gifts. I may just have the kids make him a picture. But I just don’t want him to feel “left out.” Any ideas? Please share!

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    Andrea Reply:

    Just a thought — you might be reading too much into his reaction. He might have just been shy or tired??
    I think we’re so programmed into assuming people do NOT want to be alone or that people all want to do lots and lots to “prepare” for the holidays that we feel bad or like something is wrong if a person is not completely consumed with holiday preparation.
    I’ll be honest, Dave and I do almost nothing to “prepare” for the holidays. We put up a tree, we buy a few gifts, and I make a few special treats, that’s about it.
    I think it would be sweet if your kids made him a card, but I definitely wouldn’t let yourself feel badly about asking the question!

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    Lil Reply:

    This could be terribly awkward for him. Once when I was working on Christmas, some people felt sorry for me and brought me stuff, and it was mortifying! There were questions from co-workers and boss. And even worse, once a church adopted us for a holiday meal (without us knowing) and brought a bunch of groceries over without warning. We did not want or need the groceries and it was so embarrassing, and then I had to take the groceries and donate them to a food pantry! Not everyone celebrates Christmas, remember! So, think it through, and if it seems right, do it, but if it seems even a little questionable, think of something else you could do to brighten someone’s day, maybe!

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    Andrea Reply:

    good point — thanks for sharing!

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    Rhonda Reply:

    I think that’s an excellent point. I often feel bad turning down things that I don’t really want to do, but I feel like if I participate and don’t enjoy it, that’s not fun for anyone.

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    Andrea Reply:

    yes exactly! Probably spoken from a true introvert — which I can so easily relate to!
    I often joke with Dave that either one of us would LOVE to be “alone” over a holiday — but I do realize it’s because we rarely get a chance to be all by ourselves. If someone is alone all day, every day, they would probably welcome some company or an invitation out.
    But NOT everyone!
    Thanks for bringing this up and sharing your perspective!

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  14. Annette Silveira

    12/06/2018

    I wanted to restate your point about reaching out to those we know are hurting. It’s most often not possible for them to do it. Make those calls. Take some tea and cookies. Invite them over. Don’t let them sit alone if you can help it.

    Merry Christmas everyone!

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    Andrea Reply:

    Yes, it never hurts to ask — as long as we’re OK if they say “no”.
    It’s hard for some people to believe, but there are many people who truly do NOT mind being “alone”. They like the quiet, so we shouldn’t assume that everyone NEEDS to be part of something over the holidays, or feel badly if they aren’t. Maybe they are choosing to be alone for a reason. We need to respect that too.

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  15. Kerri

    12/06/2018

    This was me 2 years ago. My mom was in the hospital for 2 months over Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s. I was at work (private duty nurse) upset about everything when I stopped to appreciate the small things, like rocking my work baby to sleep and that small change brought about a better perspective. Yes the holidays would be bad that year but it wasn’t forever or the end of the world.

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    Andrea Reply:

    I’m sure you’re glad that Christmas is IN THE PAST!

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