Beginning sometime around Thanksgiving and continuing through New Years Day everywhere we go store clerks, colleagues, and random strangers on the streets say, “Happy Holidays” or something along those lines. They inquire about our plans for the holidays, while sharing all of the fun and family time they plan to experience. They decorate for the holidays and proudly display all of the holiday cards they have received. For those of us in close communities or with loving families, this can be a welcome diversion from our day-to-day lives. It can warm our hearts and remind us of all that we have to be thankful for.
Unfortunately, for those who do not have a loving family or for those who suffer from depression or anxiety, all of the holiday hoopla can be extremely painful. It can remind them of everything they do not have. It can stir up deep feelings of grief and loss. This is a side of the holidays that is seldom talked about, which further contributes to the painful feelings of loneliness experienced by our acquaintances, colleagues and neighbors who are not part of a loving community. It further contributes to the feeling of being on the outside looking in. Often those in our circle who are suffering during the holidays don’t share their pain because they feel so ashamed to be alone. It’s as if being alone on the holidays is their dirty little secret and it’s their fault. They may be thinking, “If I were lovable or worthwhile, I wouldn’t be alone.”
To give back during this holiday season you can make a big difference in someone’s life simply by reaching out to a lonely acquaintance, neighbor, or colleague. Rather than turning a blind eye to those who are alone or in pain this holiday session, below are some ways you can give to the people in you daily life.
1. Look for the subtle clues that someone in your sphere of influence is going to be alone for the holidays. Notice the person who never talks about their holiday plans or who walks away as soon as the holidays come up in conversation, and invite them to join you and your family.
2. While you are bubbling over about your holiday plans, remember that this is a very painful time for others, so watch their reactions and if they aren’t sharing glowing stories of their upcoming holiday merriment, maybe you can take your enthusiasm down a notch.
3. Share what is real. Yes, the holidays and family time can be great. It can also be stressful when you are anticipating how Aunt Sally will criticize you for gaining weight, or how you are overspending so that it doesn’t look like your sister-in-law gives better gifts, or the pain you feel that your dad has never said, “I love you” and will actually hardly acknowledge your presence. Remember to share some of these realities too (with friends and closer colleagues). Just knowing that others are experiencing some of what they experience can take away some of the overwhelming loneliness and shame.
4. Cast your show of gratitude wide. Sometimes just a card or small gift given to the security guard at your office or some cookies given to the older woman, who lives next door, can bring some of the holiday cheer to them. It can let the more distant members of your circle know that they matter to you. It is a way to reach out and touch people in your life who may be feeling invisible and ignored during the holiday flurry.
5. When someone responds to your inquires about their holiday plans with, “I am just going to have a quiet holiday at home.” Don’t go on about the busyness of your holiday plans. This will only make them feel more alone and peculiar. Acknowledge and validate their choice, “A quiet holiday at home can be really nice. You get to come back to work in the New Year rejuvenated.” This can also be a great time to re-invite them to your house. “If you decide that you would like to mix it up a bit, I would love to have you drop by my house, then you can meet my crazy Aunt Sally and help talk me off the ledge when she asks me how I have gained so much weight.”
6. Always give your phone number, address and time of the get-together when inviting someone to your house, even if they say “no.” A kind way to phrase this would be, “Well if you change your mind here is my contact information. Just call to let me know you are coming.” Or, “Feel free to drop by if you change your mind. It is very informal and we would love to have you join us.”
Of course it is okay for you to be joyous, and happy, and to feel very loved during the holidays, just remember that others may not be as fortunate. And, the best gift you can give them is the gift of understanding.