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Finding Joy When Christmas Feels Difficult: Tips for Coping with Grief, Stress, and Loneliness


For some people, finding joy at Christmas is difficult or painful. I lost my mother just before Christmas Day; as the days draw closer to her date of passing, thoughts of her demise fill my mind and heart. The fact that we spent her last Christmas together, brings some solace: the following Christmases were never the same.

For some, depression, anxiety, grief, and loneliness intensify during December. For service members and police officers lost in the line of duty, the countless people lost in current wars, and loved ones who left this earth due to illness or accident: families are grieving. For some, Christmas is a period of disappointment; families are hurting and grieving because a loved one is not home.

Be mindful of difficult family dynamics. Pay close attention to the children’s mood swings. And if you’re in a bicultural or interfaith marriage, this could be a challenge requiring patience and not forcing the other person to bend to your norms or traditions.

People get anxious during the holidays for other reasons. Some parents cannot afford to buy presents due to money shortages or financial burdens. Concerns about food and heat for the family. Some people have mixed feelings being around estranged relatives, close family members, or friends. This can lead to family conflicts. Then, other pressures especially if you are in alcohol recovery, or anorexic. Food and alcohol are easy to over-indulge. This means a person can feel uncomfortable, especially if others are encouraging you to eat and drink. 

The key point is to acknowledge the difficulties. Talk about your depression or anxiety with a counselor and have an unvarnished family chat. Stay active, don’t isolate yourself. But don’t deny your feelings. What is going through your mind? What are you thinking about? What are you telling yourself? What emotions are you feeling? What sensations are running through your body? Do something. Join a Christmas choral group. Invite someone over to dinner who is alone for the holidays. Donate old clothes. Attend a potluck, a prayer meeting, or a picnic. The holidays are about sharing what you have with those who have less.

Before severe stress sets in, write down four issues that you anticipate occurring during Christmas, then write down how you will deal with these challenges. This will help with your resilience and in re-framing potential areas of conflict and how you will navigate through these moments. I had  a date with a gal who was anorexic and a “mini-alcoholic.” I didn’t realize this until we attended a friend’s party: she repeatedly went to the restroom after eating. Then, she entered a drinking contest. That was our last date. From that point on, I had a social “battle plan” if things went sideways.

It is common to feel some ambivalence before Christmas. Staying active, being social, not isolated, reducing alcohol, not over-eating, and being aware of difficult family dynamics, can lessen holiday stress. Don’t over worry about gifts and material things. Find joy in simple activities. Enjoying each other’s company over dinner. Watch Christmas movies. Watch the choir sing on television. Go for walks. And think of your own needs. Make a list of what you need. What would you like to give yourself? And record three good things each day you are grateful for and what positive moments happened to you, then write a reflection next to each positive event. Maintain optimism. Appreciate what you have received. Have an attitude of gratitude. You are here. Now. Be here. Be here now. Get some hugs in! Enjoy your holiday moments and love the ones you’re with. About the Author:

Hilary Valdez is a freelance Writer living in Tokyo, Japan.  He is an experienced Mental Health professional and Resiliency Trainer. Valdez is a former Marine and has worked with the military most of his career and most recently worked at Camp Zama as a Master Resiliency Trainer. Valdez now has a private practice and publishes books on social and psychological issues. His books are available on Amazon and for Kindle.

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