It really doesn’t matter if you say “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays,” for some who are struggling with depression or grief neither one may feel quite right. There can be a lot of pressure during Christmastime to be jolly. Unfortunately, we may plaster on a smile to get through our 17 Christmas parties all the while feeling lost and alone. What can we do to acknowledge that pain continues and even intensifies during the holidays? How can we be honest when we are struggling, or allow others be safe enough to share their true feelings?
Just because someone is smiling does not mean they are truly feeling okay. Don’t assume a smile means that a person is feeling happy. Instead, look for overall body language — does the person look off into the distance or seem distracted? Are they keeping to themselves or answering with short, basic answers? If you are feeling great this holiday season, it can be easy to get lost in your own world and miss the struggles of those around you. On the other hand, if you are having a hard time right now, you may try to stay away from those who could actually lift your spirits even just for a little while. We need each other, even when we are not all in the same emotional space.
“Come on, it’s Christmas!!” Trying to convince someone to cheer up when they are depressed or grieving will not work. Statements like this make people feel worse, like they are just dragging everyone else down or can’t live up to expectations. If someone else is feeling happy and you are sad, or if someone else is sad and you are happy, let that be the case. Don’t try to drag someone into happiness. Instead, show compassion. Try to put yourself in the other person’s shoes and allow them to be where they are. Being a good friend means you are willing to be around another person even when they are struggling. Don’t try to fix or remove the pain, but acknowledge and validate it instead.
“Do you hear what I hear?” The only way we can hear each other is to listen. Tolerate feelings different from your own by inviting someone to share honestly about what is going on for them. If you are going through a difficult time, find a safe friend to open up to. And be willing to listen to their holiday cheer, giving yourself permission to be where you are even as they are in a different place. When a friend tells you they are not in the stereotypical “holiday spirit,” listen for long enough to hear the whole reason why. Don’t feel like you need to respond. Just listening is enough. The only thing we need to say to each other this holiday season is, “I’m here for you.”