A gentle reminder to all who are struggling this holiday season

“It’s okay to want to be alone. It’s okay to take time for yourself.” ~ Kate Allan

It’s vacation time, the best time of the year, they say, but not for all of us. For those of us struggling with the loss of a loved one, family estrangement, loneliness, financial difficulties, or health issues, the holiday season can be one of the toughest times of the year.

For some of us, the holidays can feel like we’ve been thrown out in the cold. As if we were forced to look through the window of a happy, loving family.

Many of us are longing for things that can never be, such as spending more time with a loved one we’ve lost or a supportive family. We get sucked into memories of past vacations or get lost in fantasies of what the vacation would be like if we had a different life.

We feel pressured to hide our problems, bake a dozen cookies, put on a happy smile and an ugly Christmas sweater, and attend that office Christmas party. There we smile, engage in tedious small talk, and do our best to avoid the topic of “holiday activities.”

These events can leave us feeling completely exhausted. We buy obligatory gifts for our friends or colleagues and spend hours trying to figure out what they might like. After the gift is bought, we guess ourselves and fear that we have missed the mark.

Some of us might throw parties and become obsessed with making our tree look absolutely perfect in a desperate attempt to please others and give people the impression that everything is fine.

Society has filled our minds with unrealistic notions of perfect gifts, immaculate homes adorned with lavish matching decorations, endless resources to spend, and happy times spent with family. Some of us get drained and stressed trying to cope with social pressures or the expectations of others.

Over the years, as I’ve dealt with various losses in my life or felt pushed aside by family members, I’ve learned that the most important thing we can do during the holidays is to take care of ourselves.

As an altruistic person who tries hard to please everyone, it’s not easy for me to take care of myself. In the past I felt guilty for putting my own needs first, but over the years I’ve learned that our own needs are just as important as everyone else’s. When we sacrifice ourselves to please others, it can harm not only ourselves but also those around us.

If you’re struggling this holiday season, take some time to think about how you want to spend the holidays. Remember, you don’t have to buy everyone the perfect gift, put up a tree, decorate the whole house, spend hours baking cookies, or even attend that family reunion.

If you’re concerned that a friend might be disappointed that you’re not attending an event, you can suggest that you meet up for coffee if you feel like it.

In the past I worried that a friend would judge me for not attending a holiday event. However, over the years I’ve learned that true friends are empathetic and don’t judge us for having to make time for ourselves.

The most important thing you can do when you’re struggling during the holiday season is to look after your own needs and do what you think is best.

If you feel like curling up on the couch with Netflix or a good book and a pet instead of going to a party or family gathering, give yourself permission. Sometimes it can be better for our health and well-being to turn down an invitation and rest.

If you’re used to being busy, the holidays can be more difficult as our offices are often closed or slower than at other times of the year.

To cope with that, I make a to-do list of new recipes I want to cook or bake, household cleanings that would be helpful, movies/shows I want to see, places I want to see Christmas lights, and other things I wanted to do. As a form of self-love and self-affirmation, I buy something I’ve always wanted but don’t necessarily need.

I also do volunteer work because when I help others I feel less alone and have less time to reflect on the past or events that are out of my control.

I have discarded holiday traditions that did not bring me joy. I don’t go to church or make desserts with dried fruits or decorate my tree with handmade ornaments that are dangerous to my pets. I try not to buy material gifts for all my friends. Instead, I invite friends to events like concerts, art gallery exhibitions, or museum shows that we can enjoy together.

I’ve stuck to some traditions that have made me happy. A childhood friend used to give me a branded piece of jewelry and now I’m buying one for myself. I donate to a charity and buy a gift for a child in need.

I’ve also started creating my own traditions, like baking my favorite cake and taking a break from digital communication. Every day I take time to be thankful for the things I have and the people and pets that help make my life magical.

I don’t force myself to do anything I don’t want to do, and I don’t spend time with people I don’t feel comfortable around. Once I started doing this, the holidays stopped being stressful, exhausting, and socially challenging and started becoming relaxing and peaceful.

When I’m feeling down, I remind myself that all situations are temporary and the future could be very different. There may be other holidays when I’m optimistic, excited, and eager to spend time with people who love me. But now I have to love myself, and that means doing what’s best for me.

The best thing any of us can do this holiday season is be kind to ourselves and take care of ourselves as we would our closest friend. This is the best Christmas present we can give ourselves.

A gentle reminder to all who are struggling this holiday season

About Jen Hinkkala

Jen Hinkkala is a PhD student, researcher and teacher in arts education in Canada. She strives to understand what factors and experiences lead to higher levels of well-being, resilience, and self-care in arts educators and students. Jen is also a life coach, specializing in self-care, well-being, time management, performance anxiety, alienation, overcoming abuse, career paths and anxiety. Jen runs a support group for alienated adults and a personal development support group. Follow her here: Twitter / blog

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