It’s that time of year. Christmas lights are flickering and wherever you turn you either see a Santa Claus ringing a bell for donations or carolers singing old time tunes. For many this time of year brings hustle and bustle. Travel increases exponentially beginning around Thanksgiving and continues into the New Year with families trying to figure out how they can see one another and what is told to us is that this is the happiest time of the year.

After many years of working in the mental health field and having clients that do and do not have abundant resources, the holidays can be a mark of pain and sorrow. This may be the first Thanksgiving and Christmas without a loved one. Families may be torn apart due to irreconcilable differences. The list of why this time of year is not happy for everyone can go on for miles, yet regardless of why this time of year is not the best for you, everyone is experiencing pain.

There is no cure for what you will go through. There is no avoiding it either. You will hurt, others will not understand why you are in a funk, and you will struggle on how to make everyone happy with the many moving pieces that don’t want to connect. So what do you do when the ‘world’ says “tis the season to be jolly” and you don’t feel very jolly?

There are many levels to answering this question. I shall address the major items that tend to be the reason for such pain.

Family Not Getting Along

Hopefully there is at least one person you are able to connect with in your family. This may be the time to reflect and determine if whatever it is that is keeping you and family apart really worth it? Is it time for healing, forgiveness, and reconciliation? If you believe that nothing is egregious in nature, reach out to your family. Find a way to talk it out in a manner that everyone is heard and can walk away feeling as though are happy with the outcome. If this can’t be done, and such situations do exist, then it’s time to reassess how you view family and who is in your family circle.

Holidays don’t have to spent with blood relatives. Friends, coworkers, church members, etc. can all become your extended family with whom you celebrate the holidays with. Additionally, you can spend the time with only select individuals within your family to keep your sanity. You don’t have to be with everyone you are related to. If having peace in your home means to not invite your sister, brother, mom, cousin, etc.—don’t invite them! It is okay to say “no”. Say “no” in order to say “yes” to yourself and make sure that you are happy.

Loss of loved ones

This is never an easy time, especially if it is the first holiday without the loved on or the person did around the holidays. The pain may never subside, you just figure out how to manage and move forward. There are many ways to keep the person’s memory alive even though they aren’t there with you like maintaining some of the traditions they started or taking time during the holidays to talk about them with others, particularly family. While the aforementioned may be great, grief and loss during this time of year is difficult to get past. In knowing this may be a time of year that evokes memories please remember the following:

  • be aware of your limitations during this time

  • it’s okay to cry

  • plan ahead, you know what your family may do, avoid it at all cost if you aren’t strong enough to endure

  • let people know what is going on with you

  • be gentle with yourself

Always remember that it’s absolutely okay to not be okay during this holiday season.

Incarcerated Family Member

Having a loved one in jail or prison creates a hole that cannot be filled. The family that is living their lives daily are experiencing their own loss of not having their loved one with them, while the individual incarcerated is also feeling dejected and not part of the family because they aren’t there. Things can be done, dependent upon how close you life to your incarcerated family member/spouse/friend/etc.

  • plan to visit during the holiday season—a visit during this time is a priceless act for an incarcerated individual

  • accept their calls and/or write them letters

  • know they are struggling mentally and emotionally the moment November comes

  • let them know they aren’t forgotten, in whatever way makes sense for your relationship

The three topics addressed is not exhaustive, just a tap into the pain you may be experiencing. Regardless of why you are not in the holiday spirit mood, it is okay to not like this time of year. It’s okay to not be happy about the snow falling or the after Thanksgiving sales. If this time of year makes you want to curl into a ball and hide from the world…we get it. If what you are feeling becomes too much to bear, reach out for help. Asking for help and speaking to someone is the best gift you can give yourself. Don’t worry about what others may say you should be doing or how you should behave or what you should be feeling. You know you best, and you must do what is best for you. If that means protecting your peace, guarding your emotions, or being with non-relatives; it’s absolutely okay. There is probably a time that each of us, one time or another, have been affected by a holiday funk, so we will be gracious with you as you have yours.

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Dr. Chemika Burkhalter, LCSW, MCLC

Dr. B is a licensed clinical therapist and a master certified life coach with a client-centered emphasis and a love for helping people navigate their way to the “aha” moment.