Image of pine cones

Christmas can be a wonderful time filled with family and friends coming together, happiness, joy, and fun. This is the message that we are sold throughout the year and particularly in the weeks and months leading up to Christmas Day. However, what if for you Christmas is difficult and not an enjoyable time? Maybe family relationships aren’t how you want them to be. Maybe Christmas is a time when you become more aware of what is missing from your life. Christmas can be a time when we become more aware of absences and losses, whether these are people that are no longer in our lives, or expectations of how we wanted life to be for ourselves. Christmas can be a painful time of loneliness, sadness, distress, and despair for many. If this is how you are feeling this year, you are not alone.

The build up to Christmas

I notice that from about October each year people begin to discuss Christmas and start to plan what they are going to do and who they will spend Christmas Day with. There is an expectation within society generally that everyone will be excited about Christmas. There is a vision that everyone will come together with their family just like in a traditional Hallmark Christmas Card idealised picture.  This doesn’t meet with many therapists’ experiences when there is usually an increase of enquiries and referrals after Christmas and during January. If everyone is having a wonderful time, why are so many more people seeking therapy during this period? The reality is that Christmas is often a hard time. People try to manage difficult family dynamics, financial pressure, and the pressure to have that ‘magical’ Christmas time.

It is okay to find Christmas difficult

It is important to remind yourself that you are not a failure or doing anything wrong if you do not enjoy Christmas and find Christmas hard. After all it is just another day. It is like societies expectations that weekends will be wonderful, and that Mondays are to be dreaded. However, maybe this is not your experience. Maybe Mondays are a more enjoyable day and Fridays less so. Maybe it changes each week. In a similar way, maybe you had another day in the year that was joyful, fun, and wonderful and Christmas Day will be less so. We cannot force ourselves to be happy for the day just because it is the 25th December. Go easy on yourself, and allow yourself to feel as you do, with no judgement.

When people ask about Christmas

When people ask you questions about Christmas how do you respond without being called a ‘grinch’? How do you protect yourself from what might be painful feelings? Remember, it is okay for you to share as much or as little as you want if you find Christmas hard. You might want to say, ‘I don’t really celebrate Christmas’ or ‘I’m not a big fan’ and you don’t have to give any further information. Another response might be ‘it will be a quiet one this year’, or ‘I’m looking forward to a peaceful time’. I have noticed that when people begin to talk about the realities of Christmas, that sometimes it can be great, sometimes terrible, often just okay, the pressure is reduced. Talking about the reality reduces the pressure to feel one particular way. And less pressure automatically opens us up to more possibilities of contentment and happiness.

If Christmas is very painful for you, you might find it helpful to share your feelings with people you are closer to. You might want to make plans to do things that are enjoyable for you. Whether that is meeting with others, watching a movie, reading your favourite book, making your favourite food. Avoiding thinking about Christmas and denying that it is difficult may make the day itself more difficult. Take some time to make a plan, and engage with the realities for a brief time, to consider how you will look after yourself. Having a plan can help you to be more in control, and allow opportunities for you to take good care of yourself.

How can I make Christmas easier for myself?

Good questions to ask yourself are, if there were no expectations from others, and there were no ‘rules’, how do I want to spend the day? What might be enjoyable for me? What might make Christmas less emotionally painful?

We asked therapists at The Meridian Centre what works for them when they are finding Christmas difficult:

‘When I have spent Christmas Day on my own, I have bought my favourite food and watched some my favourite programmes. Overall, I had a lovely day really even though I sometimes felt a bit sad.’

‘When spending time with family it has sometimes brought with it difficulties due to family dynamics. I have thought carefully about how to look after myself and shield myself from those difficulties. Setting boundaries around how much time I have spent with others is useful. Taking myself away for breaks when needed to recharge my batteries and resources, and leaving early or arriving late was also helpful.’

‘When I have been grieving the death of a relative at Christmas, I have taken time to acknowledge the loss and sadness. I began a tradition of having a glass of port on the evening of Christmas Eve. This is the drink I most associate with my relative. The small glass of port brings me some joy as I remember my loved one.’

‘By allowing myself to feel exactly as I feel each year about Christmas, I have been able to cherish the wonderful Christmases I have had. Sometimes these have been with family, sometimes with friends and sometimes on my own. I allow myself to be open to whatever happens. To look after myself in the difficult times, and to cherish any moments of joy, peace and contentment.’

Finding ways to engage with the following could be helpful during the Christmas period:

Laughter – whether it is your favourite comedy, YouTube channel or a Christmas Cracker joke. Try to bring some laughter to your days over Christmas.

Movement – it can be more difficult during the winter to move, and exercise. Going for a walk, dancing in your living room, even starting your day with some star jumps can be helpful. Movement keeps you connected to your body and can release hormones that will lift your mood.

Be kind to yourself – whether this is making your favourite food, buying yourself a gift, offering yourself comfort, or saying kind things to yourself and acknowledging your strengths and achievements, offer yourself kindness.

Journal – writing about your experiences and feelings can help you to process them and move forward.

Connection – connect to others where and when you can. Whether this is through social media, a smile as you walk past somebody or by arranging to meet with a friend, try to stay connected. Connection can also be through books, music, podcasts and YouTube.

Comfort – Immerse yourself in something that brings comfort. A hot water bottle, planning a holiday, painting a room, doing some crafts, pyjamas and a blanket.

If you find that you are struggling do remember that there are services available to support you during this time. Reach out to the following services if you are experiencing crisis, loneliness, depression or anxiety.







If you would like to begin therapy in 2024 with one of our therapists, please find more information about our services and how to book an assessment at this link