There’s something really sad about Christmas.
You can see it in all these commercials with families gathered around the table, blissfully celebrating the festive days with their loved ones, exchanging perfectly-wrapped presents next to shiny Christmas trees, with everyone smiling and feeling so lucky to have each other.
What??? You can’t see it yet?
To give you a hint:
In this “merry” picture, projected through media and social media...
...where are the people who are grieving the loss of a loved one?
...where are the people who can’t spend time with their friends and family because of work?
...where are the people who spend holidays in hospitals, either being sick, operated or terminally ill, or taking care of someone close, sitting in some hospital rooms and hoping for some good news?
...where are the people who recently saw the end of something they really loved (house, marriage, friendship, job) and now they have to start over?
...where are the people who can’t afford to buy presents for their family, to host festive dinners or to dress fancy?
...where are the people who suffer from mental illness (anxiety, depression or other) and they are tortured by their fears, loneliness and insecurities?
...where are the people who are geographically separated from their friends and family with thousands of miles keeping them away from what seems so obvious to have?
...where are all the parents celebrating without the children and all the daughters and sons celebrating without their parents?
There’s something really sad about Christmas in the way it’s presented through media and our environment: it seems that having a “Merry” Christmas is for granted, and that it belongs only to those whose life treats them well in the current phase. For the rest -I mean for those who struggle- there’s no space in the commercials. There are no guidelines “how-to” or any sign of thoughtfulness for those who are lost, lonely or stuck.
Did you notice the phrase “in the current phase”?
Do you remember a time in your life when Christmas felt so heavy, sad and lonely?
Many of us had been through that, and we know how hard such a reality can be.
We know that it feels excruciatingly painful to think that there is no one for you to ask you “How are you doing today?”, to invite you to a party, to listen to these thousand-times-played-but-still-nostalgic Christmas songs, to have a coffee with you.
We know that it’s unfair to feel that you have been taking care of your friends and family so far, but now they are having a blast without you or not including you in their plans.
You are tired. You are emotional. You are feeling lonely.
Whatever the case that brought you at this Christmas feeling lonely, keep that in mind: you are not alone.
There is an awfully huge amount of people experiencing the holiday season in another way, and not only the one you see in advertisements and in facebook photo albums.
How to survive when you are struggling during Christmas?
1. Not comparing
Stop comparing your current situation with others’ life: it’s quite hurtful for you and not helpful at all. It doesn’t make you feel better, so why do it? The fact that you are not in a good place and your emotional state is quite vulnerable doesn’t mean that it’s your fault or that you deserve it. It’s unfair to compare your life with theirs NOW. Other people have been or will be there at some point, and not because they deserve it. But merely because that’s life. Instead focus on yourself and what you need now or what you can do to soothe your loneliness, your pain, your sadness. You went through some challenges this year and you deserve some praise for that, and definitely not guilt, shame or self-blame.
2. Social Media
If it’s for getting in contact with people you have missed or you didn’t have time to talk so far, yes, go for it.
If it’s about spying how other people are having fun, while you don’t, and making you feel even more miserable by comparing their life with yours, NO, definitely not a good choice.
Unplug and detox for a few days from the subtle nerve-racking, mentally-exhausting, down-putting impact of social media. After that break, you will see the world with some newly-discovered clarity, optimism and self-kindness.
Sometimes we are very bad at giving advice to ourselves or taking care of our own emotional wounds, but we are so good and well-prepared when it comes to helping others. What about volunteering in some community activities around you: there are homeless people, sick or older people or orphans who would really appreciate some help or some company these days. What you gain? Socializing; helping some less fortunate people around you; meeting people who have been through similar experience with you; and last but not least, showing some kindness to others may help you see how you can be kind to yourself and eventually treat yourself nicer. Hopefully.
4. Home alone
Don’t go into “all or nothing” or “should/must” thinking: “Either I’m spending the day with the people I want or in the way it should be spent, or else: Nothing”. If you are staying inside spending the holidays alone, because no one is around, because you had to travel for work, because you are living abroad or because you couldn’t travel back home, make this day a special one. Prepare your favourite meal, binge-watch your favourite movie or series and do all the things that make you feel nice. Nothing in there means that your life is miserable or that you “will die alone”. It’s a day which can be as fun and as special as you want it to be. It’s your call.
5. No - Yes - No
If you said yes to some plans or activities, but you meant no, or the other way around, don’t hesitate to change it. It’s a day where you don’t need to feel suppressed, so do as your heart tells you. Your real friends will understand your reasons and will trust your good intentions. The people who will get disappointed from you, are the ones who will judge you either way. So, feel free to let go of guilt and listen to your heart.
See the situation you are in, as momentary and gradually fading. When we see things through the lens of permanence, we feel less motivated to change or to question the “status quo” or the “fate”. Remember the last time you felt sad, miserable, lonely and desperate. Did it last forever, as you originally thought? How did you cope? Which skill or quality of yours was most helpful in order to get you unstuck (your stubbornness, your creativity, your social network, your courage)? It is a phase, and instead of looking at it and feel sad, think of the day ahead where this pain and distress will be a tad smaller.
7. Part of life
Happiness is not a reward and pain is not punishment, Pema Chodron said in one of her meditation lectures. What you are going through right now is life happening. Either you think you deserved it or not, abort that kind of thinking: our life cannot be put into an “action-reaction-result” algorithm. Actually it isn’t your whole life, it’s only a part of your life that will take you to another part of your life, that will take you to another part of life…. and so on. Sometimes it helps seeing our life as a continuum, consisting of different compartments leading to the next ones, always in a flow; sometimes smooth, sometimes rough.
8. Lower expectations
Setting the bar too high for Christmas? Trying to organise everything to the last detail? I guess it seems impossible to have fun in so much stress, right? Perfectionism is not about delivering perfect results, but rather feeling some overwhelming stress about yourself, that whatever you do will not be enough; that you are not good enough. Having some fun, nice, relaxed Christmas has nothing to do with perfection and good organising. Don’t beat yourself up because you don’t feel like singing, cooking, inviting people, hosting parties which will eventually exhaust you and leave you no time for yourself. It’s merely getting in touch with what you really need at this moment. Ask yourself: Which overwhelming and stressful thought do I need to let go off?
9. Be present and allow yourself all kinds of emotions
If you are grieving, allow grief to be one of the emotions you will feel and let it be part of your healing. Be present and listen to the message your own feelings are sending you. Grief is the pain we feel because of the loss of a loved one. But it’s also a reminder of how important some people are in our life. It brings back important relationships to a healthy perspective, where we try to enjoy the people we have while they’re still next to us. Allow some space for sadness and nostalgic memories in this Christmas holidays. Their message is not harmful, but instead quite helpful. Not suppressing uncomfortable emotions is an act of kindness and acceptance to yourself. Be kind.
10. Reframe & find your own meaning
I understand that all previous Christmas holidays was much better than this one and that the thought of having to spent Christmas all alone is a sad one, but what about changing our perspective? Broaden your options to what Christmas means for you and how it “should” be spent. Give Christmas holidays your own meaning: maybe in the past years it meant “family time”, but now it’s time to re-think who is “family” for you. Maybe there are more people who could be considered family for you, and not necessarily the ones you have blood relations. Maybe in the past years, Christmas was equal to “giving”, but this year it’s more about you learning to ask and to take, because you need it and there’s nothing wrong with that. Don’t restrict yourself in old patterns; re-invent Christmas’ meaning and allow yourself some more options in the new space you made.
This Christmas will be different for some of us.
Let’s not take Health, Love, Connection, Wealth and Joy for granted.
Help those who are hiding behind a kind smile, those who don’t share their pain, because they don’t want to “ruin” your Christmas-y mood.
Reach out to others if you are feeling lonely and hopeless.
You are not alone.
The AntiLoneliness Team wishes you
Christmas in Peace, Christmas in Self-Kindness.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.