Tis the season to be jolly – but sometimes that can be hard.

By Julia Grieves

All of a sudden it’s that time of year again and ’tis the season to be jolly – but sometimes that can be hard.

Plans for the work Christmas party or dreaded Secret Santa are well underway. Supermarket aisles are blasting with carols and the general end-of-year panic and hot anticipation of “a good break” have set in. The holiday period is a time for enjoying family, celebrating in whatever way we do and also giving thanks. But it’s also a time of complex feelings –  a time when old griefs can resurface and unavoidable associations arise.

It also brings into sharp focus those who are not with us.

Whether it’s grief over a loved one who’s died, an ex- partner who’s no longer at the Christmas party or any of the other myriad losses we endure as humans – significant events or anniversaries and the inseparable associations they carry can re-trigger feelings of loss and bring up painful emotions.

This can be exacerbated at Christmas time, when “negative” emotions are seen as running counter to the joyful mood of how things are “supposed” to be.

Whether we are religious or not, Christmas can also carry a huge amount of symbolic weight in terms of how family, relationships and even one’s wealth status should or shouldn’t look. For many of us, it can bring up more subtle feelings of unworthiness as we shore up the various models of success we might have been fed with the reality of our actual lives.

While there are always things to be celebrated, it helps to bear in mind that the holiday period isn’t necessarily always the party it’s cracked up to be. We pulled together some advice from those who’ve experienced first-hand how to handle things when you’re feeling less than merry in the lead up to Christmas…

Let yourself feel what is there to be felt

Remember that you’re human and therefore you feel things. Also, know that everything changes, including what you’re feeling now. Interestingly, when we resist or attempt to wish away our emotions it tends to have the opposite effect of ramping things up. As Jung famously said, what you resist persists. Instead, cultivate the inclination to take care of your sadness, as you would a friend.

Honour a life

If you’re grieving the death of a loved one, find a way to commemorate this person, perhaps in the company of others. Simple gestures can go a long way: sharing stories, lighting a candle, offering some words at the Christmas lunch table or taking a walk in nature to acknowledge the life and enduring love you feel for this person.

Give yourself a break

Christmas can carry with it high expectations (whether real or imagined) regarding presents, attendance at events as well as maintaining the sanctioned Christmas spirit. Be realistic, as well as kind –  in terms of what you’re up for and what you’re not.

Get support

Ask yourself: who are the supportive people in my life that I feel most comfortable around? Also consider whether some extra help in terms of therapy or other healing would be wise at this time. Remember, you’re not alone in how you’re feeling and leaning into another when the time calls is part of being human.

Whatever meaning Christmas does or doesn’t carry for us, we can perhaps still let it serve as a time to come back to what’s important to us and how we want to live. If we approach this question by starting close in, by being willing to listen to all of the contours of our own life, we might nurture an inclination to go more gently, towards self or other – rather than beating ourselves up for feeling like the Grinch.  

And remember, if things get too much for you at Christmas, reach out.

The message on Lifeline Australia’s website says:

“Consider whether someone you know may need additional support at this time of year, and make an effort to connect with them. … Whether it’s 3am on Christmas Day, or 11pm New Year’s Eve, Lifeline is open every day and night of the year ready to listen and support you.”

For 24/7 crisis support…..

Lifeline 13 11 14…

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