Are you feeling lonely this Christmas? More depressed than joy-filled? It is more common than you might think.
Christmas is supposed to be the happiest time of the year. Even though it was Christmas, I was feeling lonely, depressed.
The year following my divorce, I had more in common with Scrooge and the Grinch than the merry holiday shoppers I saw every time I left my house. Nothing was as I had planned, expected, or hoped for. Christmas is about family, and mine was broken. I was miserable. Even years later, sometimes I still struggle with being happy at Christmas.
Being alone at Christmas isn’t part of the holiday package as advertised, but remember that the Hallmark Christmas is a myth for many people. It is hard to be jolly if you are alone this Christmas.
There are a lot of reasons for being sad at Christmas. I stumbled across this book shortly after my divorce and still think it’s one of the best books on surviving the loss of a love.
Lack of Money Contributes to Depression at Christmas
In some circles, Christmas has become an orgy of consumerism. People get caught up in buying unneeded or unwanted items to supposedly show love for the recipients. Instead, the recipient is burdened with finding a place to store all this stuff they don’t want. They are also burdened with how to get rid of the excess stuff in a way that won’t hurt the givers’ feelings.
It was not always that way. Remember the turn-of-the-20th-century stories in which children got only an orange and some nuts in their stockings? Maybe one other thing, a homemade doll or maybe a handmade dress? I was thrilled one Christmas because I got a special outfit I had been wanting for weeks. That was the only gift from my parents. I didn’t feel deprived. I was thrilled! In many families, gift expectations are out of hand.
The Problem with Consumption
It saddens me that people spend money they don’t have and go into debt for months to buy other people things they do not want or need. It is freeing and life-giving to resist the Christmas consumerism, but when poverty gives you little choice, it feels shameful. Sometimes, people feel like if they are not buying carloads of gifts, they are not enough. It’s strange how, when we have an option to give more, it can be easier to give less.
Even when money is sufficient, shopping for gifts can be stressful. It takes time and energy to deal with the crowds and waiting in line. If you suffer from anxiety, it can truly be a nightmare to spend time in the Christmas shopping horde. And then there is the first-world problem of selecting items for people who have everything. The gift-giving part of the holiday is fraught with problems.
All that said, it can feel really sad and lonely to not have someone who is buying you a special gift.
Possible Solutions: If there is no one to get you a special gift be your own special someone and get yourself just what you wish someone would give you. To save money you can find some fun & cheap Christmas ideas for single parents here. My sons helped me come up with a list of family traditions for under $5 some of them are part of our Christmas traditions and others are ideas we’ve heard about that you might like to try.
Lack of Time and Energy
You are only one person. Do not expect to be able to do everything that you would be able to do in a two-parent household. If you can afford to hire help, don’t feel guilty–just do it. If someone offers to help, accept it graciously but don’t expect them to take on your responsibilities. This is a fine line, but do your best to walk it.
Possible Solutions: If you have the resources you could hire help or maybe ask for a gift certificate for a house cleaner to take something off your to-do list. Older kids could be enlisted in gift wrapping duty.
The Hallmark movie family is wonderful, but in truth, most families are not like their Christmas cards. For most single moms, this is not what we planned.
I think in many cases we have it better than the men who are alone at Christma. Single dads often are often all alone on Christmas and other holidays. Even when single dads have their kids they often do not have the experience that moms do in making the holidays a special time and struggle more to figure out what to do. Moms are usually in charge of the holiday rituals, and often when children are grown they tend to favor being with mom instead of dad. If you are alone this Christmas try not to feel too sorry for yourself.
Many people’s grief is especially painful at Christmas because of loss through death, divorce, or estrangement. Estrangement happens more than you might think. People often feel ashamed and don’t talk about it openly. If you are in this situation, know that you are not alone. I hear about it in my office and it makes holidays a very painful time.
Work May Keep You From Family
Many people must work during the holidays, which keeps them away from family and friends. Hospitals are not closed at Christmas, and clergy have some of their busiest times on the holidays. Many stores are open late on Christmas Eve and on Thanksgiving. Even though we think of holidays as family time, many people are not able to be with family at Christmas, and their work has a central role in the holidays.
Even if your family is not what you expected it to be, you are not alone. You are not the only one who is building a new dream.
Possible Solution: Focus on gratitude. What is good about your life? What is going well with your children?
One Cause of Depression at Christmas
I feel lonely and sad or depressed when I focus on what is missing. That probably makes you feel lonely, sad and depressed too. You’ll notice I mentioned a lack of money, a lack of time and energy, and a lack of connection. There are things missing, but there are also things you have. Consider the following.
- Focus on gratitude. What is there to be grateful for?
- Accept what is rather than wishing for life to be different.
- Think about special times with kids and enjoying special times by yourself.
- Create new traditions that fit your situation.
- Think about what you can do for someone else. This is a great way to feel better!
- Focus on making memories, not collecting stuff.
- Focus on strengthening the relationships you do have.
Scrooge changed. His heart of stone melted when he focused on someone else and decided to be generous. You, too, will have more joy & feel less alone when you focus on others. Focusing on yourself and the things you lack causes depression, sadness, and resentment. I know it is not easy, but knowing what to do to be happy is simpler than you may have thought. With practice, you will develop more skill in putting things in a positive light.
Christmases for my children have not been what I expected or dreamed about when they were born, but we have had many happy Christmas celebrations.
If You are Alone This Christmas Make New Traditions
Be creative! What activities and traditions would your family really enjoy? One of my favorites was when we splurged and went on a trip to the Twin Cities. We went to a play instead of giving material gifts. Another simple tradition my boys look forward to is getting new lounge pants. It is a little, inexpensive thing, but occasionally I ask if they have enough and they explain why they need another pair this year. I’m sure I will give lounge pants to their wives someday. It is an elemental part of Christmas for us.
My favorite tradition is playing games together. You can get ideas for family games here. This year we plan to try something new, a simple DIY project of making candles or soap together, because my children informed me that neither of them wants more stuff and I do not want to burden them with things they do not want or need. To be honest,
it feels a bit odd but I am looking forward to figuring out how to celebrate with less exchange of stuff.
You Have Options
Focus on gratitude as you develop your plan for a meaningful holiday. Think about the relationships and the life you have right now. It may feel like you are the only one who doesn’t have the life you dreamed of having, but that is not true. Most people have something in their life that is not as they hoped or expected it to be. That is part of the human condition, and you are not alone. The solution to that disappointment is simple, but it takes work: Dream a new dream. Make a plan to be happy and work that plan.
Here are Christina’s tips for beating the holiday blues.
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Hi, I’m Tamara the creator of Empowered Single Moms, a single mom, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LICSW) and the author of Thriving a Single Mom’s Guide to a Happy, Positive Life and Thriving a Single Mom Journal. I have a solo private psychotherapy practice where I treat anxiety, depression, and relationship issues.
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