photo by: Anthony Tran
by Andrea M. Darcy
No family Christmas for you this year due to being overseas or stuck working? Dreading the idea of spending Christmas without loved ones?
5 Ways to Manage Without a Family Christmas
So how to navigate this strange season of homesickness? Or spent a holiday alone without being too depressed?
1. Let yourself mourn – within limits.
Pretending we are ‘fine’ and don’t care, when we actually do? Always tends to backfire. Suddenly we are snapping at friends, or reaching for that extra glass of wine when we know we will end up with a hangover.
It’s a healthy reaction to feel upset if we can’t be with the loved ones we are used to spending holidays with.
Of course constantly moaning to everyone around us isn’t the solution either, but keeps us in a negative thought loop and lead to depression (as well as alienates others).
It’s important to take time to process emotions yourself.
TRY THIS: Have a temper tantrum on paper. Write out, as fast as you can, all the furious things that come, no matter how wild and childish. In fact the more childish the better. Don’t worry about penmanship. When you are done, rip it all up. If you don’t like writing, set a timer for two minutes and rant out loud ever single thing that comes out until your time is up.
2. Presence over presents.
Thinking about happy holidays in the past can be heartwarming.
A series of studies by American researchers, for example, found that reflecting on cherished memories can alleviate loneliness.
But thinking about how much better the past was compared to your current Christmas, and using negative comparison? It can throw you into rumination, which leads right to low moods.
But when we focus on the present, we notice what is really going okay in front of us. We are healthy, our family loves us even if we aren’t with them.We can start to feel gratitude for what we do have instead of what we don’t.
A study on British students facing a challenging life transition found that showing gratitude can protect you against stress and depression.
TRY THIS: Give a mindfulness meditation a go, a technique that pulls your right into the present moment. It’s free, easy to learn, and shown by research to help with stress, anxiety, focus, and wellbeing. Use our free guide to mindfulness.
3. Replace cheer with wellbeing.
Yes, apparently it’s the season to be ‘be merry’. But the problem with alcohol, recreational drugs, and food bingeing? They are all depressants. As in, they chemically dampen your mood once the buzz wears off.
photo by Sharon McCuthcheon
TRY THIS: Replace habits of distraction with wellbeing activities, healthy things that make you feel good. Make a list of at least ten things that leave you feeling happy after. It might be as simple as a hot bath or baking, or something bigger like finally ordering that DJ software and making music. What could you actually do today from that list? What other things could you pen in your diary for the upcoming days?
4. Choose a new tradition if you can’t have a family Christmas.
Rituals and traditions help our mental health. A study on rituals when mourning, for example, found they went a long way to help mourners feel in control.
What new tradition can you create for yourself? (Eating an entire box of chocolates in bed counts). Or find new ways to enact old family holiday rituals, such as by over a Zoom call.
5. Make a bigger effort than usual to reach out to others.
It can feel easier to hide away from others and feel sorry for yourself than socialise. And while it’s important not to say yes to things you really don’t want to do, and not fall into draining yourself by being a people pleaser? Connection is hugely helpful for low moods.
In their 5-step plan to mental wellbeing, the NHS places ‘connect with others’ as the very first item.
TRY THIS: Make your own version of the twelve days of Christmas. Each day, for twelve days, reach out to at least one person. It could be a quick email to someone you always liked but have lost contact with, starting a conversation with a shopkeeper you’ve never talked to before, or offering your time in a Facebook group and seeing what transpires. If it helps, make it a 12-day ‘connection challenge’ with friends.
Still freaking about no family Christmas this year?
If your loneliness feels unmanageable, or being away from family gives you new revelations about certain family issues that you’ve long avoided dealing with? Don’t feel you have to navigate things alone.
Sometimes the best present we can give ourselves is a safe, unbiased environment to vent. Talk therapy creates this space. A counsellor or psychotherapist will understand and not judge, and most now work over video platforms like Skype for safety and convenience. Christmas won ‘t last forever, but the learnings and personal growth therapy provides will.
Need someone who gets how lonely you feel? We connect you with some of London’s highest rated talk therapists. Or use our booking site now to find UK-wide registered therapists and online counsellors who take global clients.
Want to share your own tip for navigating a year without a family Christmas? Use the comment box below.
Andrea M. Darcy is a mental health and wellbeing expert and writer. She also runs a consultancy helping people find their perfect therapy and therapist. She’s spent more Xmases alone and overseas than anyone she knows, you’ve got this! Follow her on Instagram for useful life tips @am_darcy