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Why Christmas can Suck (And What To Do About It)

Yesterday with a client I was reminded of why the Christmas season can be difficult for a lot of people. We all have the vision in our minds of holiday togetherness, lots of feasting on good food and enjoying the company of family.

But what do you do when you have a relative who’s an addict, relatives you can’t stand being around, or you’re simply alone and are sad because there are few people to share the holidays with? As a personal example, I’ve had lonely Christmases, especially right after my divorce. I’ve also had to deal with a parent who had to go to detox on Christmas Eve – more than once. Plus, a family who only got along for that one day a year and, on the other side, a parent who decided that he wasn’t going to bother with Christmas unless everyone drove an hour to see him.

This can also last for weeks. We are bombarded with messages about how Christmas is supposed to look, but in reality, it looks that way for a small proportion of families. It can be stressful and even send some people into crisis mode.

However, there are some ways to make sure your mental health stays strong during the season, and it doesn’t become a horribly stressful time for yourself or your family. Here are some of the main pitfalls you might run into, and how to manage them with a lower level of stress:

Scenario #1: I have an addict in my family.

Togetherness during the season often prompts us to enable addiction because we don’t want to ruin the holiday. The trouble is, many addicts relapse during the Christmas season – in fact, more exposure to party atmospheres and things like drugs and alcohol can make staying abstinent hard. Emotional issues also tend to rear their heads during this time.

We all have seen or experienced the scenario where Uncle John arrives at the family celebration already drunk and makes an ass of himself, yet the entire room ignores it or, even worse, tries to fix it at the moment.

Solution #1: Don’t enable addict behavior just because it’s a holiday. Deal with it beforehand.

This can sound harsh to many, but I am a firm believer that we shouldn’t enable addiction at any point in the year. It can be a simple conversation with the relative beforehand (ideally when they are sober) that you expect them to be sober and if they choose not to be, they will be asked to leave. Inevitably, there will be some emotions involved, but at least it won’t happen in the moment and the family doesn’t have to be exposed to their behavior.

You can also encourage them to get into recovery or develop support before the season, knowing that they may have problems with the emotional ties to holidays. Attending meetings or finding a therapist to help them BEFORE the events take place means you are preparing for it, not dealing with it after the fact.

One of the most challenging parts of dealing with addicts for family members or partners is often boundaries. Establishing those ahead of time is vital.

Scenario #2: I’m alone and lonely.

There’s a term called “cuffing season” where when it turns cold and people get lonely, they tend to make bad relationship decisions, especially around the holidays. One of the main harbingers of poor mental health is being lonely. If you don’t have direct family or don’t have good relationships with them, this can be a very difficult time of year.

It can be easy to spiral into negative thoughts and feel like you are worthless, which is something that a lot of single people or those in bad relationships need to combat.

Solution #2: Realize you’re going to be lonely and find the other lonely people. Give yourself something to do that you will enjoy doing.

One of the hardest things for people to realize when they are alone is you’re not the only one. You see displays on social media of families and celebrations and feel you’re inadequate because you aren’t part of the false displays that many families put on.

It’s also one of the best times of year to connect with new people. There are many other people out there in the same situation as you are who would love to connect. One of the most important steps towards managing your mental health is having the courage to REACH OUT. This can be done through meetups, taking up a new hobby or even attending a class you’ve wanted to take before.

If you are an introvert and can’t imagine being around a ton of strangers, then this is a great time of year to take on a new project. Write a book, fix that thing in your house you’ve been meaning to, even building something like a big Lego project or a puzzle. Whatever will bring you some satisfaction and joy and counteract the lonely feelings.

Scenario #3: We get overcommitted trying to please everyone.

Some parents and relatives are masters at generating guilt and shame during the holiday season. This can be very triggering for the people involved who endure this behavior. Narcissists, for example, will make sure that whatever is happening, either it’s all about them or if it’s not, everyone is going to hear about it to garner sympathy. People with anxious attachment will feel like they need to please everyone they can.

There are lots of reasons to see those who are important to you – but you need to make sure that you also have time to enjoy the season without driving for hours back and forth and making it even more stressful.

Solution #3: Give yourself permission to say NO.

Guilt and shame should not be a driver for behavior. So if you don’t want to drive three hours to see Aunt Mary, then my suggestion is – don’t. With everything that happens around the holidays, forcing yourself to see as many people as possible can be exhausting and frustrating, especially if they are people you rarely see (or don’t really want to see).

I often tell my clients: don’t let other people decide how you are going to feel. If there is bad weather, a sick child, or you just don’t feel mentally up to engaging with a situation, then don’t. Often, you won’t regret it as much as others might try to say otherwise. Plan things in advance, and don’t be afraid to refuse invitations if they don’t mesh with what you really want to do.

One difficulty many people have is saying no to things. The holidays are a perfect time to practice this, and also realize you’re not a terrible person or the world isn’t going to end because you didn’t attend a function. In fact, you and your family might be grateful.

If you are struggling with your mental health at this time of year, I encourage you to reach out and talk to someone! My office is always open during the holidays and, as outlined above, talking to someone about your challenges can make things much easier during this time. Feel free to contact me at or book a complimentary consultation on my web site.

And of course, have an enjoyable and low stress holiday season!

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