Advice for those Who Struggle with the Holidays

Holidays are associated with celebration, connecting with loved ones and being refreshed. Yet for so many, holiday seasons can have painful associations attached. Memories of loss and reminders of heartache can often cloud the celebrations.

Some have lost a dear family member and the holidays are a very clear reminder of their absence. Sometimes that loss occurred right around the holidays, making a time of celebration a haunting memory. I have worked with many people who are single because of divorce or were never married at all. They express the magnified loneliness they have to plow through during holidays. Some are facing financial stresses that make them feel disconnected from the exchange of gifts during Christmas. Even those who have great circumstances can battle with inner turmoil, where they feel like they are on the outside looking in.

I have found very little advice and encouragement around this subject, so people often flounder in silence. Yet this can be a very powerful time if we allow ourselves to make some key shifts. We can turn the tables on the enemy, so that he has no room to steal the joy that can be found in these times of celebration.

In this season, you need to be encouraged. Here are some thoughts that have helped me and others during holidays that were more difficult.

1. Develop solid and healthy expectations.

One of the reasons many people go into depression during Christmas is because they have glamorous expectations of grandeur that are not met. Commercials and movie scenes depict certain levels of experience that make many who do not have those specific circumstances to automatically feel defeated.

Great expectations are not wrong, we just need to be aware of what the focus becomes. Is our expectation that people will fill a need for us? Are we expecting family members to be something for us to fill a broken area.  Do we want our family to be something they are just not capable of? Are we looking for a special person to come into our lives out of nowhere, when most of the year we haven’t been investing in relationships? These kind of expectations can become unhealthy.

Be aware of comparison. Just by going through your Facebook feed, you can easily become discouraged by what you think others have that you lack. Your pain can become unnecessarily magnified by a false perception and comparison with others.

If you’re family is not very well connected and healthy, don’t expect the holidays to change that all of a sudden. You may need to realign your expectation of what people can and cannot be in relationship. This releases you of unnecessary anger and toxicity regarding what you look for in your interactions.

2. Don’t ignore the life of your heart.

Many years of my life in ministry were spent in constant busyness, preparing for holidays and ignoring tending to my heart. We often said to one another, “let’s just get through the holidays.” We were left tired and burned out. For many years, I even resented holidays, because they only meant longer hours and less time with loved ones.

Americans get so consumed in the trap of busyness, we attempt to deal with our pain by just adding more activity. Sometimes the best thing you can do in this hurried culture is take times to stop, reflect and give thanks.

Let your heart breathe. You may even need to grieve somethings or process through some hard emotions that you have been ignoring most of the year.

3. Be kind to yourself.

If you’ve been through a trying season, you don’t have to expect yourself to magically turn on the happy switch, but this is a good time to develop some new resolve on how you want to love yourself into greater health.

Its ok to grieve. Be patient with yourself. But don’t add to already difficult circumstances you are going through by being hard on yourself. This leaves you trapped with no room for fruitful directions.

Being kind to yourself may mean having some distances from toxic people and those who back the truck of emotional garbage into your life.

4. Reach out and love on someone.

Breaking out of a funk can often come down to simply going out and loving on someone else. Give out to someone what you wish someone would give to you. Remaining in your state and focusing inward will keep you as a victim, so turn the tables on sadness by cultivating what you are looking for. Be what you want to see around you.

5. Make renewed memories.

If holidays trigger a sad memory that just wont budge, find a way to create a new memory in that place. Our bodies are easily programmed by certain memories that have emotional associations. Because of this, just the arrival of Christmas can trigger some negative feelings in many.

One of the best ways I help people address this problem is by creating new memories that take over. This takes big celebration and really fun events that create a new embedded memory in our heart and mind. Develop a new tradition, something you do by yourself, with family or friends that put in motion new emotional associations with holidays.

6. Get creative.

Early in our marriage, Melissa and I entered into Christmas with very little money to buy the Christmas gifts we wanted to. Instead of letting that stop us, I came up with a new tradition that has followed us to this day.

Those of you who know me, I have a passion for photography and video, so I put it to good use. I compiled all the family pictures and video I took in the year and compiled a family video as a gift to Melissa. She was so deeply touched that she requests that as a gift every year. I could have enough money to buy a Lamborghini and she would still request the family video. Now each year it becomes a fun adventure of capturing memories that we can reflect on for years to come.

Get creative. it doesn’t have to cost money, because activities together have more meaning than gifts alone. Create rituals and certain activities that become new traditions. This adds to creating new memories that become joyous associations.

Regardless of where you find yourself this holiday season, take action to break yourself out of certain funks and move into healthy patterns. Love yourself into the good that is available to you.

My prayer for you is that the Father’s love will be experienced and the joy that is found in Christ Jesus will be manifested in a personal way.