If the holidays are hard for you, doing these 4 things could really help.

I'm at a Christmas party. The people are gracious, the food is scrumptious, the wine is fantastic, and so is the music.

But I’m miserable. Why?

Because in my mind, this is what's playing in a loop: You should be happy. You should be grateful. You should be thankful.


Should be. For many folks, the holidays are a beautiful time of year. A time of rest, connection with loved ones, and celebration. But let's be real: that doesn't mean it's all mistletoe and cheer.

Image via iStock.

The holidays can also be a time of grief, family tensions, loneliness, and facing our own imperfections.

For me, the holidays are brutal because my brother and several friends died this time of year. Since this is traditionally a time of remembrance, I find it doubly hard to bring my heart into the present. Even though I'm surrounded by people at this Christmas party, I feel lonely. Worse: I feel like it's not OK to have these feelings.

Image by Tarang hirani/Flickr.

I know I'm not the only one.

One of my close friends was abandoned by her husband in December, and she's reminded of his betrayal every time the holidays roll around. She actually loves Christmas, but that pain is always awakened in the holiday season.

Even if you haven't experienced a major loss, we're all hit with a set of assumptions and expectations this time of year. That we should black out our calendars for holiday events with people we may not be all that excited to see. That we should be available to participate in activities that can be really draining. That we should spend money. Lots of money. And, all the while, that we should be full of joy.

Image by jpellgen/Flickr.

So what if you're not? What if, like my friend, you’re feeling lonely and hurt? What if, like me, you're aching in grief as you remember the loss of someone beloved?

If this is a difficult time of year for you, understand that you're not alone. The holidays are in no position to create a happy ending where none exists.

Which is why I want to offer these four suggestions to those who need them:

1. Turn off the Christmas carols if you're not in the mood, and don't go to that party if you don't want to.

Because you don't have to get into the holiday spirit. You don't have to feel the way others tell you to feel. You only need to care for yourself and offer yourself to others as best you can.

Image by Tom Lin/Flickr.

The fact is, trying to repress your true feelings and appear cheery and grateful when you're actually suffering doesn't really work. Psychologist Iris Mauss conducted a series of studies in which she found that the more value people placed on feeling happy, the less happy and more lonely they were likely to be. Research also shows that focusing on attaining happiness by fulfilling materialistic desires — a holiday pastime — can increase the risk of depression, can decrease the quality of relationships, and can mean less happiness in the long run.

Go ahead and feel what you need to feel. It's better for you.

2. If you're grieving, understand that the pain associated with it is perfectly natural.

Grieving hurts so vividly because it’s a wail of aching love, repeated to infinity. In this wailing is an opportunity to acknowledge our losses and remember those who have been taken from us. It's also an invitation to stand in solidarity with those who have experienced similar pain, without shame.

Image by Melvin E/Flickr.

3. If the season is making you feel lonely, give yourself permission to be brave enough to reach out to someone.

You might be embarrassed and feel the desire to self-isolate. The tendency to hide can explode amid the holidays because there's so much pressure to appear "perfect." We're brought face-to-face with our imperfections, and this couldn't be more true than with our relationships. Many people have strained or disconnected relationships with their families. Others find that, as the holidays approach, many of their friends aren't really there for them.

Reach out so someone who can be there for you. Just one person. That friend who seems to get you even though you rarely see her? Give her a call. That teacher who stood by your side when your world was falling apart? Reach out to him.

4. If there isn't a specific person you want to reach out to, don't be afraid to choose to be alone with intention.

Spending time in silence can actually cultivate confidence. It can allow you to observe your emotions more objectively and teach you the value of learning to enjoy your own company, instead of buying into the assumption that there's something inherently wrong with spending time alone.

Step into nature and allow it to inform you. Journal your wounds onto the page. It can be hard, I know. But if you choose to stand in your brokenness, it will begin to lose some of its power over you.

Image by Ryan Blanding/Flickr.

None of these activities will make your pain go away, but they will ensure you have the space you need to grieve safely and in a spirit of love.

If we'd just allow ourselves to be brave enough to express how we're really feeling, this season could be a time for authentic connection and healing.

This brings me back to that Christmas party: I remember seeing a friend of mine in the corner, nursing a drink, looking terribly uncomfortable. Her eyes conveyed a deep pain she was clearly trying to mask. I could have approached her and acknowledged her. I could have offered her my presence by standing with her in silence. But I didn't. At the time, I was too self-absorbed and nervous.

If I could do it again, I'd tell her exactly what I'd be much more confident in saying now: the truth.

I'd tell her I hated being at the party, and that every day in the Christmas season is profoundly painful for me. I wouldn't try to make her feel great by pretending to feel great.

I'd try to make her feel loved by being vulnerable. By feeling what I need to feel and being who I can't help but be. And you can, too.

Family

On an old episode of "The Oprah Winfrey Show" in July 1992, Oprah put her audience through a social experiment that puts racism in a new light. Despite being nearly two decades old, it's as relevant today as ever.

She split the audience members into two groups based on their eye color. Those with brown eyes were given preferential treatment by getting to cut the line and given refreshments while they waited to be seated. Those with blue eyes were made to put on a green collar and wait in a crowd for two hours.

Staff were instructed to be extra polite to brown-eyed people and to discriminate against blue-eyed people. Her guest for that day's show was diversity expert Jane Elliott, who helped set up the experiment and played along, explaining that brown-eyed people were smarter than blue-eyed people.

Watch the video to see how this experiment plays out.

Oprah's Social Experiment on Her Audience www.youtube.com

Culture
via Cadbury

Cadbury has removed the words from its Dairy Milk chocolate bars in the U.K. to draw attention to a serious issue, senior loneliness.

On September 4, Cadbury released the limited-edition candy bars in supermarkets and for every one sold, the candy giant will donate 30p (37 cents) to Age UK, an organization dedicated to improving the quality of life for the elderly.

Cadbury was prompted to help the organization after it was revealed that 225,000 elderly people in the UK often go an entire week without speaking to another person.

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Well Being

Young people today are facing what seems to be greater exposure to complex issues like mental health, bullying, and youth violence. As a result, teachers are required to be well-versed in far more than school curriculum to ensure students are prepared to face the world inside and outside of the classroom. Acting as more than teachers, but also mentors, counselors, and cheerleaders, they must be equipped with practical and relevant resources to help their students navigate some of the more complicated social issues – though access to such tools isn't always guaranteed.

Take Dr. Jackie Sanderlin, for example, who's worked in the education system for over 25 years, and as a teacher for seven. Entering the profession, she didn't anticipate how much influence a student's home life could affect her classroom, including "students who lived in foster homes" and "lacked parental support."

Dr. Jackie Sanderlin, who's worked in the education system for over 25 years.

Valerie Anglemyer, a middle school teacher with more than 13 years of experience, says it can be difficult to create engaging course work that's applicable to the challenges students face. "I think that sometimes, teachers don't know where to begin. Teachers are always looking for ways to make learning in their classrooms more relevant."

So what resources do teachers turn to in an increasingly fractured world? "Joining a professional learning network that supports and challenges thinking is one of the most impactful things that a teacher can do to support their own learning," Anglemyer says.

Valerie Anglemyer, a middle school teacher with more than 13 years of experience.

A new program for teachers that offers this network along with other resources is the WE Teachers Program, an initiative developed by Walgreens in partnership with ME to WE and Mental Health America. WE Teachers provides tools and resources, at no cost to teachers, looking for guidance around the social issues related to poverty, youth violence, mental health, bullying, and diversity and inclusion. Through online modules and trainings as well as a digital community, these resources help them address the critical issues their students face.

Jessica Mauritzen, a high school Spanish teacher, credits a network of support for providing her with new opportunities to enrich the learning experience for her students. "This past year was a year of awakening for me and through support… I realized that I was able to teach in a way that built up our community, our school, and our students, and supported them to become young leaders," she says.

With the new WE Teachers program, teachers can learn to identify the tough issues affecting their students, secure the tools needed to address them in a supportive manner, and help students become more socially-conscious, compassionate, and engaged citizens.

It's a potentially life-saving experience for students, and in turn, "a great gift for teachers," says Dr. Sanderlin.

"I wish I had the WE Teachers program when I was a teacher because it provides the online training and resources teachers need to begin to grapple with these critical social issues that plague our students every day," she adds.

In addition to the WE Teachers curriculum, the program features a WE Teachers Award to honor educators who go above and beyond in their classrooms. At least 500 teachers will be recognized and each will receive a $500 Walgreens gift card, which is the average amount teachers spend out-of-pocket on supplies annually. Teachers can be nominated or apply themselves. To learn more about the awards and how to nominate an amazing teacher, or sign up for access to the teacher resources available through WE Teachers, visit walgreens.com/metowe.

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One of the major differences between women and men is that women are often judged based on their looks rather than their character or abilities.

"Men as well as women tend to establish the worth of individual women primarily by the way their body looks, research shows. We do not do this when we evaluate men," Naomi Ellemers Ph.D. wrote in Psychology Today.

Dr. Ellers believes that this tendency to judge a woman solely on her looks causes them to be seen as an object rather than a person.

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Culture