When the Holiday Season Is Not So Happy

Unhappy woman making a Christmas wish outside

There’s a line in a Christmas song written by one of the great, legendary songwriters that goes something like this:

And so this is Christmas

And what have we done

Another year over

A new one just begun

For me, the holiday season and year’s end are often about looking back on what I accomplished, and what I didn’t get done. Everything and seemingly everyone around me is having an over-the-top Christmas—indulging, enjoying, spending, eating, being happy, smiling, hurrying, and posting it all on social media. In reality, the holidays can be a mixed bag of not so over-the-top experiences like job loss, cash challenges, sadness, stress, depression, loneliness and painful old memories.

On the other end of the spectrum, the holidays make me think about what I’m thankful for. This in-between place creates a mixed bag of emotions I’m often ill-equipped to deal with during the hustle bustle that comes this time of year. This perfect storm of emotions, which we may not even be conscious of, can cause us to escape in behaviors like over-shopping, over-drinking, over-everything.

In-Between Holiday Stories…

This Christmas, your story may just be one of these: 

Jessica recently lost her significant other to cancer at the age of 64. This year will mark her first holiday season alone. Her children are all grown, with families of their own, and they don’t live close by. She’s lonely and afraid to ask her kids for support, never having needed anything from them in the past. She’s in-between a full and fulfilled past with memories shared with her husband, and an uncertain future where she may need to depend on her children and create new traditions that focus on herself.

Fred and Susie got a divorce this year. They’re on their own this year, in new homes, splitting their holiday traditions as equally as they can with their kids. Each is trying to create new traditions that will take them forward. It’s a painful in-between Christmas that reminds them of what they’ve lost, and the difficulties their children must endure to get to a healthier future as a family. 

Stacey hates her job all year long, but this month she has to go to an office party, too. She can’t stand the people she works with and the food will be bad. She has to sit with her demeaning, micromanager boss and his wife. Plus, Christmas is on a Wednesday, so Stacey still has to go to the office on the day after Christmas. It’s a season full of dread and disappointment for Stacey.

Mark had a tough childhood. His dad was an alcoholic and the holidays were particularly volatile. Now that his mom has been gone for five years, it’s just him, his brother and his dad left. He knows he should include his father in some way over the holidays but it’s just too painful to reach out. He’s in-between wanting more for his own kids, and creating new memories with them, and remembering the tough Christmases of his past.

Cheryl has three young kids, and she is doing Christmas to the hilt every day. She’s out there shopping and wrapping all day, and helping the “Elf on the Shelf” get safely to and from The North Pole every night. Cheryl has to stop to call her 80-year-old mother, who isn’t really doing very well. She’s spent after one phone call thinking of all she wishes she could do for her mom, but also feeling annoyed that she has to do it.

These are tough stories, and maybe your story isn’t as sad. Maybe you aren’t talking to your sister-in-law, your mother-in-law, or even your own mother.  Maybe you feel like you don’t look good in any of your holiday clothes because you’ve gained a lot of weight or maybe, like me, you’re getting tired of all the same small talk at Christmas parties. Maybe you are downsizing and saying goodbye to a house that carried you through decades of memories, or maybe your kids have moved out and aren’t around as much. Whatever is causing you to be in between, it’s ok.

Holiday Season To-Do List

In the spirit of an in-between Christmas season, here are a few steps we can all take – no matter where we are on the holiday spirit meter – to get to a more peaceful place within ourselves:

  1. Let go of traditions. It’s never too late to make new traditions—or get rid of old traditions—for the holidays. Sometimes sadness comes when an old tradition isn’t possible, or when it’s too painful. Guess what? We own our traditions. Nothing is mandating us to continue on with them. This year, don’t hesitate to abandon old traditions for new ones. (You can throw away an ornament if it makes you sad, too.)
  2. Look for small kindnesses. The holidays are about giving and receiving kindness. Maybe we can give kindness to ourselves first, and just sit in the in-between this year. If we can be ok in our own in-between places, and be kind to ourselves, we can also be open to receiving small kindnesses from others and authentically being kind to others.
  3. Repeat after me: It’s ok. Why don’t we all just say it together: “It’s ok.” This year, my Christmas pledge is to be ok in the in-between. I’m sometimes bummed this time of year, because my expectations aren’t met and I miss people who are gone. This year, I’m just going to get a cup of coffee when I feel sad, be thankful for the season and be ok with how it is.

Acknowledging your feelings is always healthy; it’s a form of self-care. So managing your expectations rather than having others and social media manage them, letting go of painful traditions and items, and being ok with acknowledging pain and hurt should be on top of your Christmas to-do lists. These are all of the things that can really help us be ready for the holidays.

Yasser Youssef is the president of The Budd Group, one of the leading facility service companies in the country a North Carolina-based company that provides facility support services in the Southeast. Throughout his career, Youssef has met leaders from all backgrounds, and believes leadership is for everyone. Over the past few years, he has developed an affinity for writing and contributing thought leadership, and is often asked to speak to businesses throughout the country about authentic leadership.

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