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Ho-Ho-No? Why Christmas Can Be Painful For Some

Updated on December 21, 2016

Not-So-Happy Holidays

I like Christmas, and I think I've come to like it more since having children of my own.

It's not ever a perfect holiday - there are always sicknesses and presents that ultimately get a bit messed up because I've forgotten where I've hidden them - but I like seeing the smiles on my kids' faces as they play in the snow, or see relatives and friends they haven't seen in a while, and certainly, seeing their excitement when they open their stockings and then their presents is pretty cool.

But for so many, Christmas is not a merry time of year - not even close. There are serious illnesses to consider; loss of employment; addictions in the family; broken relationships that may never mend. For a lot of people, Christmas is actually a time of year that brings so much stress with it it can be absolutely painful.

The Mood Disorders Association of Ontario and the Toronto Distress Centre, in addition to a number of studies, can attest to the fact that depression rates seem to start climbing in November and December. The Toronto Distress Centre reports that the number of calls it receives over those two months increases before settling back to "normal" levels sometime in January.

While depression rates do indeed climb during the holidays, it's also believed that suicide rates climb - a holiday myth that just does not want to die out. In fact, the holidays can actually be a bit of a buffer against thoughts of suicide because of the family bonds that many experience during the holiday season. The Centers for Disease Control report that November and December are actually the months with the fewest number of suicides, a statistic that no doubt provides some relief for those who might be worried about a loved one's depression.

That does not make the holidays any less painful for some. Those with a relative who is deathly ill may be looking at the season with a great deal of dread. Someone who's lost his or her job will no doubt be wondering how they will still have a joyous season. People who might be estranged from their families and have no other place to turn to celebrate the season may not know just how to approach the holidays, and while they may put up a tough facade, it is exactly that in a lot of cases - a facade.

There are individuals who are also fighting to keep a roof over their heads and can barely afford food, let alone gifts for Christmas. That can take a toll on a person's mental health and wellness, which ultimately also affects their physical health. It's desperately hard to put on a happy face when you're wondering what exactly there is to be happy about during the holidays.

It would be trite and all too easy for me to put a delightful and happy spin on what can be a hard time of year for so many people, so I'm not going to do that.

That would be grossly unfair.

But...

Holiday Dreams Dashed

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Lean In

I love Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook. While her book Lean In is largely about how women can make a place for themselves at any corporate table, the expression "lean in" means so much more, I think.

I respect the heck out of her too, for the open and earnest way she's discussed how she's approached surviving important events following the sudden death of her husband, Dave Goldberg, in 2015. I'm sure she is among those who might struggle in honoring the holidays because of the loss of a loved one. I'm hoping that she is leaning in, but not in the way she originally defined it in her book.

I read somewhere once that if ever you felt as though you lost your courage, to turn to your friends, because they will have it for you. To me, leaning in is also about that sentiment, that idea that you find your soft place to land and grab onto it. Sometimes that means leaning into your discomfort and finding a new way to honor the holidays while other times, it means setting your pride aside and accepting your friend's or family member's offer to host Christmas so there's not as much pressure on you.

Leaning in can also mean leaning in to what your biological or chosen family has to offer, provided it's a healthy choice. If they are offering unconditional love, support and a few laughs along the way, leaning in is a wonderful thing. If they are offering a way of numbing the pain rather than working through it, you might want to reconsider your options.

Leaning in is about finding the best option for you to grab on to the best way to celebrate and honor the holidays in whichever way you choose. Whether it's about quiet reflection, starting a new tradition, or drafting plans to start a new business, leaning in can also be about new beginnings and new futures. It may mean choosing not to celebrate the holiday season at all, and that's OK too - it's only you who can determine what path you need to walk.

Why not embrace that notion and see if it brings some much needed peace and hope?

Start Something New

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What If You Have Kids?

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