When the Holidays Are Hard: Tips for Managing Seasonal Blues

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The holidays can be a tough time for a lot of people. If you’ve recently lost a spouse or your children live too far away to come home it can feel sad and lonely.

“The holiday season does make some people more aware of their aloneness,” says Esther Benbihy, a registered psychological associate with Kimberly Moffit Associates in Toronto. “People then end up making comparisons to what an idealized family looks like and how the holidays should be celebrated.”

Esther says people who are struggling with the blues because they’ve lost a spouse or can’t be with their families should try to avoid making comparisons and instead “recognize the holidays are going to be different, but that ‘different’ doesn’t always have to be bad.”

She recommends doing something that breaks with past traditions, maybe something you’ve always wanted to do, but couldn’t. For example, take a trip instead of staying home, or eat out at a restaurant instead of cooking a holiday meal. Or consider spending the holiday with friends when family is not an option.

You could also volunteer at a food bank, hospital or other organization. “By giving, you tend to feel better,” points out Esther. “It feels good to help someone else, plus you end up socializing with different kinds of people which gives your life more meaning.”

If it’s a missing spouse or partner you and your family is dealing with over the holidays, Esther suggests creating a new ritual; one that acknowledges the person who is absent. “Talk about them, what they loved to do, sing songs they loved, light a candle in their honour, buy a new ornament you know they would have loved, have their favourite flowers on the table. These are ways of still including them in the holiday season.”

And keep in mind it’s okay to cry.

“The first holiday after the death of a loved one tends to be quieter and more low key,” says Esther. “But it’s also so important to talk about your feelings and let them out. It’s very therapeutic. You don’t have to be strong.”

Anyone feeling the blues over Christmas also needs to remember to take good care of themselves; to eat, sleep and watch their alcohol intake, says Esther.

And remember to be grateful.

“It’s important to be thankful for what you do have. If you’ve lost a loved one or your kids can’t make it home for the holidays, focus on the positive. Say to yourself ‘my children are doing well and living their lives in another part of the country,’ or ‘I’m thankful for my friends, my home, my extended family, my grandchildren, my career’ – or whatever. Put the focus on what you are grateful for.”

And remember that ‘family’ can take many forms. It includes single parent families, blended families, gay families – all sorts of different configurations and faiths. Esther says it’s important to appreciate your own unique family situation and in whatever way it manifests during the holiday season.

“Keep in mind that if your loved ones were all there they would want you to enjoy the holiday,” says Esther. “They wouldn’t want you to be miserable. They’d want the exact opposite.”

A version of this story was originally published on December 2016


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