Songs like, “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” and “Home for the Holidays” along with Christmas specials depicting the warmth of home, family, and friends may be true for some; for others, it just doesn’t fit.  Consider some of these real-life situations:

  • The divorced parent who’s alone in the holidays because their children are with their ex-spouse
  • The adult whose parents have divorced and who has to split their time between their parents’ new homes knowing that they are going to be asked questions—questions they don’t want to answer—about the other parent
  • The war veteran, now a civilian, dealing with the memories of close friends who died in Iraq or Afghanistan
  • The person who has had both parents pass away, sometimes both within the last year
  • The unemployed middle-aged man or woman who lost a job and who feels like a failure, anticipating a very lean Christmas
  • The young adult who reluctantly heads home for Christmas, knowing conflicts in the family abound during the holidays
  • The man, woman, or child who lives with the anticipation of spouses or parents drinking themselves drunk as they “celebrate” Christmas

All of these are common scenarios lived out every year during the holiday season. These stories aren’t the basis of overly dramatized, bad movies. They are the real stuff of life for those all around us.

For many, the holidays, are difficult. This season of the year can be a time of deep loneliness, sadness, isolation, depression, and even suicide. Often, those who suffer drink too much either in an effort to belong or to take away their pain. The result is often more pain or at times, deeper tragedy.  What can we do to help those who suffer? What can those in pain do to minimize the difficulties the holidays can bring?

If you know of someone who suffers in this way, you can have a significant impact by doing a few simple things. Isolation is a killer; efforts to diminish it can really help.  So, consider any of the following.

  • Call more than once over the course of the holidays. Don’t be satisfied with just trying. Keep calling until you get an answer. Once you reach your friend, family member, or acquaintance, set a time to talk again before you hang up.
  • Offer to meet with your friend for coffee; take them out for a meal.  Make it your goal to talk about them and listen. Many people have no one to listen to them and they suffer deeply for it.
  • If possible, invite this person to your home. Let them help you cook dinner, make cookies, or help you decorate your Christmas tree.  Give them a family experience in which there’s no strings attached.
  • Give an anonymous gift to someone in need.  Ask a third party to deliver the gift. An anonymous gift lets the suffering know that someone cares about them enough to provide for them. The anonymity reduces the need to reciprocate or the feeling of not wanting to accept charity. If necessary, limit what your family gives and gets so that you can give to someone else who is really in need.

If you are the one who suffers during holidays, here are a few things important for you.

  • First and foremost, limit the alcohol. Alcohol is a depressant and too much of it can turn a normal sadness into a dark, brooding depression.
  • If you know you’re going into a situation that is difficult for you (for example, an angry family), stay for a while and then leave. Make other plans so that you have an honest reason for leaving. If you are visiting from out of state, consider getting a motel so that you have a place to go to get away from the difficult environment.
  • If you’re unable to leave or stay elsewhere, then make it a habit to go out for walks and have some time to yourself. You can choose to take a break from the chaos, noise or fighting. You don’t have to be a part of it.
  • Call someone, perhaps an old friend or someone you used to know and suggest you get together. Initiate a meeting. All too often, those who suffer with holiday blues wait for others to make the first contact.  Be proactive; take the lead. You may have to swallow your pride to do so, but that in and of itself may be good for you in the long haul.
  • Find a place to serve others less fortunate than yourself. Most cities have shelters for the homeless or other non-profit organizations where you can help. Churches often have outreaches to the poor in their community.  Serving and helping give us a sense of purpose and belonging that can help us during the holidays. Serving helps us fight isolation and the despair that comes from it.

So on whichever side of the problem you may find yourself, take action.  Don’t sit back and let the problem get worse. Look out for yourself and those around you and find a way to make a difference in someone’s life this holiday season.