Holidays can be painful for people dealing with loneliness or grief — here’s how to cope

The holiday season is often dubbed the happiest time of the year, but for people living with depression or loneliness, it can get hard to stay in a cheerful mood. Getty Images

It’s the time of the year that is deemed the happiest, but if you’re feeling alone or going through grief, it can be hard to get into the holiday spirit.

On top of this, social media tends to make some people feel the worst this season: feeds are filled with family dinners, opening gifts and pictures of people in a happy mood.

“It goes without saying that being bombarded with images of happy families and gifts at this time of the year can make those who have neither feel even worse,” says Lesli Musicar, a registered psychotherapist based in Toronto.

“So perhaps it is better to avoid social media if you are already feeling lonely.”

READ MORE: Some experts say Christmas music can be bad for your mental health

Feeling alone

There are multiple reasons someone may feel lonely during the holiday season. They could be living away from their family or friends, or don’t have many friends in their new city. Sometimes, you can feel lonely even if you’re surrounded by loved ones.

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“If you are someone with few or no close connections, doing volunteer work where you will feel appreciated and not alone can be a good antidote to the Christmas blues,” Musicar continues.

READ MORE: For any Canadian who feels lonely, this project proves you’re not truly alone

Psychologist Maneet Bhatia says feeling alone or isolated from time to time is also completely “normal,” and it doesn’t matter if you’re with someone or by yourself — we all tend to feel lonely.

“Part of loneliness is having the courage to reach out,” he tells Global News. “And it can get overwhelming sometimes.”

He suggests taking small steps and showing compassion towards yourself. Ask a friend for coffee, he suggests, rather than feeling the pressure to throw a large holiday dinner.

Depression and the holidays

The Mayo Clinic notes the holidays can also be a stressful time for people with depression or anxiety. Holidays often put pressure on people to throw parties, buy the perfect gift and entertain large groups of family members.

“The holidays don’t have to be perfect or just like last year. As families change and grow, traditions and rituals often change as well. Choose a few to hold on to, and be open to creating new ones. For example, if your adult children can’t come to your house, find new ways to celebrate together, such as sharing pictures, emails or videos,” the clinic notes.

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WATCH: Dealing with depression during the holidays

Bhatia says if you are depressed, it’s time to let go of the expectations that come with this time of year.

“We put so much pressure on ourselves to do something big and important … it’s just a time of the year,” he says. “It’s OK to take a break from everything.”

It’s also important to remember to keep up with your daily meals, exercise regularly and like Musicar says, monitor your daily social media use.

Going through grief

Grief is another reason people may be dreading the holidays, especially if they’re struggling with the recent passing of a family member or friend, or if the anniversary is close to Christmas.

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“If you are recently bereaved, the holidays can be especially painful,” Musicar says. “This is when it is important not to be alone.”

Musicar adds it is better to share your grief with other family members or friends, who either share your loss or have had one of their own.

“Sometimes being able to show your grief allows others to do the same. And it generally feels better to let it out than to hold it in and pretend it isn’t there. ”

READ MORE: Loneliness even unhealthier than obesity, should be a public health priority

Bhatia says it is also important for others in your life to be mindful of your surroundings. Certain music or holiday traditions can evoke memories or emotions, and letting your family members or friends know that helps.

And if you need to grieve, just let it out.

“It’s OK to be grieving or create new holiday traditions and ways of coping.”

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