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Deal with Emotional Pain

Getting through the Holiday Season when it feels difficult

Tips for dealing with holiday stress

Last year, I had sworn that I would get away for Christmas this year. I’d be jetting off to some exotic island, surrounded by white powdered sand and crystal clear turquoise waters. I’d be happily lazing on the beach, far away from holiday stress. However, I chose not to book a vacation for personal reasons, and I am glad I didn’t. With the constant changes in travel restrictions due to concerns of the new Omicron variant, I’m not sure I’d be too patient with disruptions and hassles others might encounter with their travel plans.

So, here I am.

It’s cold.

My joints ache.

And my heart aches too.

I am empathic by nature, and I am feeling the anguish of the collective.

Just when we thought things were getting better, the unexpected news of the Omicron variant has many of us feeling cranky, disheartened, and miserable AF, spoiling holiday plans and spirit.

Others are going through an incredibly rough time. Of late, I’ve heard heartbreaking news of people grieving the sudden loss of loved ones and people suffering life-threatening health conditions. I’ve heard of financial hardships, family disputes, and the devastating impacts of natural disasters worldwide. All these events make the holiday season unimaginably painful to get through.

I’ve also had clients express how difficult it is to hear festive songs on the radio or listen to talks about social gatherings and festivities while they suffer in isolation. Some have strained relationships, are unable to be with family for different reasons, or are entirely estranged from their families.

While the holidays can be fun and jolly for some, they can be difficult for others for a wide variety of reasons, and I get it. It’s a difficult time for me too.

Frankly, the holiday season isn’t my favourite time of the year, and I am at peace with admitting that out loud, in the face of the expectation to “be of good cheer.”

Don’t get me wrong. I like some aspects of the season. I enjoy baking, buying thoughtful gifts, decorating the Christmas tree, and giving to those less fortunate.

But for the most part, I find the holidays stressful. Too much activity, noise, and crowds can be bothersome to me.

There have been a few Christmases during which I had suffered debilitating anxiety. No one would have suspected because I’d be all dolled up and dragged my feet into attending parties despite my insides screaming not to go. *For anyone who has a mental illness, I empathize. It isn’t easy. It’s even worse feeling the pressure to put on a pretense that all is well.

I can attest to family gatherings being especially difficult, if not draining, for me. I feel out of place, awkward, and uncomfortable. I’ve usually managed to plaster a smile on, fake it till I make it out the door, and have even stifled the impulse to lash out at someone who exhibits narcissistic behaviour.

I’ve felt my heart fill with sadness in seeing the close connections other people have in their families, and it takes me right back to distressing childhood memories of drama and conflict with extended family members. Resentment, bitterness, and regret show up as I realize that my need for close family connections and the longing for belonging have been unmet. Having to adjust my expectations and accept that some family relationships will remain superficial, or worse, challenging and emotionally distant, is not something I am ready to do. I have yet to process and grieve unmet expectations and needs thoroughly.

To make matters worse, earlier this year, I learned that malicious gossip had been spread about me, that someone apparently “hates” me so much that they can’t stand to share any of the good deeds I’ve done for this person and their family over the years. I was told this in confidence and was asked not to say anything, which infuriates me because I feel unable to confront the issue, yet I can’t pretend that I don’t know. I feel betrayed, hurt, confused, and extra triggered to say the least. So people will have to pardon me for not forcing myself to be in a festive mood this year.

If you’re not feeling up to it either for whatever reason, know that that’s ok.

Here’s how I am dealing with my holiday blues (and blahs), and I hope you’ll find these strategies helpful.

Normalizing Different Experiences

I recognize that it isn’t “the happiest season of all” for everybody, which is normal and acceptable.

Saying No, Setting Boundaries, and Not Chastising Myself

I choose not to attend the small gathering I usually attend and not label myself a bad person or the black sheep for exercising boundaries. There is nothing wrong with declaring that you need space (whatever that might mean for you) and then taking it.

Practicing Mindful Self-Compassion

I am not having a pity party either, although I’ll openly admit having those brief moments. I am practicing mindful self-compassion. I realize that this is a moment of suffering for myself, and many others, and in that sense, I am not alone in my experience. I offer myself kindness, warmth, and understanding in the way I would for my loved ones, clients, and strangers. I ask myself what do I need to take good care of myself.

Practicing Mindful Self-Compassion

I am not having a pity party either, although I’ll openly admit having those brief moments. I am practicing mindful self-compassion. I realize that this is a moment of suffering for myself, and many others, and in that sense, I am not alone in my experience. I offer myself kindness, warmth, and understanding in the way I would for my loved ones, clients, and strangers. I ask myself what do I need to take good care of myself.

Acknowledging Emotions, Holding Space for Them and Letting Them Pass

I remain present to all sorts of emotions showing up and accepting their varying intensities. There’s guilt for not spending time with my nephews. There’s relief that I don’t have to pretend or make small talk.

There’s feeling hopeful that maybe we will go into full-blown lockdown again, just so that I don’t have to feel the discomfort of guilt over not going to celebrations and then good ol’ shame rearing its head for wanting a lockdown.

There’s sadness at knowing some people are inconsolable when they’ve been rejected repeatedly and have to spend the season alone. There’s anger that I am in a tricky situation and feel unable to speak up about it.

There is also joy at the thought of enjoying a delicious home-cooked meal all by myself, and pride knowing that I am doing what’s best for me. I know all of these emotions will come and go, and it’s perfectly alright to have all of them.

Setting up a Comfortable Space

I am aiming for coziness in my home space. I am strangely comforted by dark or dimly lit rooms at present. I am writing this post with my blinds down and a warm fleece blanket draped over my legs while burning a “cashmere woods” scented candle. All this is incredibly ironic, given that I was hoping to soak up the sun somewhere in the Maldives. But hey, this works for me, for now.

Listening to music that feels Right, Good, Healing For ME

I am listening to anything but Christmas carols. I find my mind calmed and soul soothed by smooth jazz. However, when I can’t control the music (i.e. in grocery stores), I take note of any disgust, dislike, and irritation I feel. Funnily enough, when I am mindlessly wandering the isles at a store, I’ll occasionally catch myself humming or singing to the tunes! Force of an ingrained seasonal habit!? 

Discerning Between Ideals and Image vs. Reality, Letting Myself Off the Hook, and Taking Responsibility

I am being mindful that we’ve been sold the idea of the “perfect” festive season. Our parties have to go off without a hitch. The meals have to be served at the perfect temperature. We have to take excellent pictures, buy the best gifts and have conflict-free gatherings where everyone is respectful of each other and their opinions.

I’ve not once encountered a perfect Christmas. It’s not perfect, and I am allowing myself to be ok with not meeting ideal versions of the holidays. In the past, people have shown up very late, meals have become cold on the way to the table, disagreements about vaccination policies have occurred, and hurt feelings have surfaced over people complaining about “too much food” despite me labouring away in the kitchen for days.

This year, I am letting myself off the hook for not attending celebrations, not baking a single cookie, and forgiving myself for being late in sending a gift to my friend who lives far away.

I also acknowledge that many images we see (i.e. on social media) aren’t always accurate representations of reality and don’t always tell the whole story. There is no judgment whatsoever of people masking how they feel or feeling the pressure to post “happy” photos when they may not be in a happy place. However,

I think we could be more vulnerable in conversations, speaking up about not feeling joyful when the expectation is to be so at this time of year and feeling pressured to show up with “positive vibes only.”

They say, “Sharing is caring,” and I couldn’t agree more, mainly because sharing personal stories help people feel less isolated, less ashamed, more connected, and fosters greater empathy for our humanness. For such reasons, I don’t mind taking on the responsibility of sharing experiences or my emotions about difficult situations.


I will be in touch with people on Christmas Eve to send wishes, especially connecting with anyone I know going through a challenging time. I am lucky to have a friend who also finds the season taxing, and we talk about these issues without judgment. It is nice to reach out, but when it’s not possible, I find journaling to be helpful.


I am permitting myself to unplug from the Internet for a few hours this Christmas and shutting my phone off entirely on Christmas day. I will return messages and phone calls after the 25th, and don’t feel guilty or selfish for doing so.

Engaging in Self-Care

I am doing my best to take good care of my body. I am eating more balanced meals. I’ve given into sweet tooth cravings too, but for the most part, in making healthier meal choices, I’m noticing an improvement in my moods. I try to keep up my mindful dancing routine, even if it’s for 5 minutes a day. And, I am planning on trying out audio bedtime stories to sleep well.

Engaging the Senses

I plan on continuing to take the time to feast my senses of the decorations I’ve put up and anything else I see, really. I may not be in the best of moods, but that doesn’t stop me from appreciating what’s in front of me.

Days ago, I spent time sitting by the Christmas tree, engaging all my physical senses, delighted at the shimmering objects before my eyes, sometimes getting up to feel the textures of the ornaments and the warmth of the tiny lights. I am amazed at the creative minds that crafted these items. Some forgotten sense of gratitude stirred in my heart, reminding me of how privileged I am.

Making Good Use of the Word “And”

I am choosing to look at the glass as half full and half empty.

Yes, I am feeling a bunch of challenging emotions AND I am also grateful that I have a roof over my head, food to eat, and connections with people I feel right at home with, no matter the geographical distance.

Sending Loving-Kindness

Lastly, I am sending loving-kindness wishes and prayers to everyone including those grieving, those who feel lonely, lost, forgotten, depressed, disappointed, or just plain spent from the emotional roller coaster the pandemic and other stressors have brought upon us.