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.

True

When Sue Hoppin was in college, she met the man she was going to marry. "I was attending the University of Denver, and he was at the Air Force Academy," she says. "My dad had also attended the University of Denver and warned me not to date those flyboys from the Springs."

"He didn't say anything about marrying one of them," she says. And so began her life as a military spouse.

The life brings some real advantages, like opportunities to live abroad — her family got to live all around the US, Japan, and Germany — but it also comes with some downsides, like having to put your spouse's career over your own goals.

"Though we choose to marry someone in the military, we had career goals before we got married, and those didn't just disappear."

Career aspirations become more difficult to achieve, and progress comes with lots of starts and stops. After experiencing these unique challenges firsthand, Sue founded an organization to help other military spouses in similar situations.

Sue had gotten a degree in international relations because she wanted to pursue a career in diplomacy, but for fourteen years she wasn't able to make any headway — not until they moved back to the DC area. "Eighteen months later, many rejections later, it became apparent that this was going to be more challenging than I could ever imagine," she says.

Eighteen months is halfway through a typical assignment, and by then, most spouses are looking for their next assignment. "If I couldn't find a job in my own 'hometown' with multiple degrees and a great network, this didn't bode well for other military spouses," she says.

She's not wrong. Military spouses spend most of their lives moving with their partners, which means they're often far from family and other support networks. When they do find a job, they often make less than their civilian counterparts — and they're more likely to experience underemployment or unemployment. In fact, on some deployments, spouses are not even allowed to work.

Before the pandemic, military spouse unemployment was 22%. Since the pandemic, it's expected to rise to 35%.

Sue eventually found a job working at a military-focused nonprofit, and it helped her get the experience she needed to create her own dedicated military spouse program. She wrote a book and started saving up enough money to start the National Military Spouse Network (NMSN), which she founded in 2010 as the first organization of its kind.

"I founded the NMSN to help professional military spouses develop flexible careers they could perform from any location."

"Over the years, the program has expanded to include a free digital magazine, professional development events, drafting annual White Papers and organizing national and local advocacy to address the issues of most concern to the professional military spouse community," she says.

Not only was NMSN's mission important to Sue on a personal level she also saw it as part of something bigger than herself.

"Gone are the days when families can thrive on one salary. Like everyone else, most military families rely on two salaries to make ends meet. If a military spouse wants or needs to work, they should be able to," she says.

"When less than one percent of our population serves in the military," she continues, "we need to be able to not only recruit the best and the brightest but also retain them."

"We lose out as a nation when service members leave the force because their spouse is unable to find employment. We see it as a national security issue."

"The NMSN team has worked tirelessly to jumpstart the discussion and keep the challenges affecting military spouses top of mind. We have elevated the conversation to Congress and the White House," she continues. "I'm so proud of the fact that corporations, the government, and the general public are increasingly interested in the issues affecting military spouses and recognizing the employment roadblocks they unfairly have faced."

"We have collectively made other people care, and in doing so, we elevated the issues of military spouse unemployment to a national and global level," she adds. "In the process, we've also empowered military spouses to advocate for themselves and our community so that military spouse employment issues can continue to remain at the forefront."

Not only has NMSN become a sought-after leader in the military spouse employment space, but Sue has also seen the career she dreamed of materializing for herself. She was recently invited to participate in the public re-launch of Joining Forces, a White House initiative supporting military and veteran families, with First Lady Dr. Jill Biden.

She has also had two of her recommendations for practical solutions introduced into legislation just this year. She was the first in the Air Force community to show leadership the power of social media to reach both their airmen and their military families.

That is why Sue is one of Tory Burch's "Empowered Women" this year. The $5,000 donation will be going to The Madeira School, a school that Sue herself attended when she was in high school because, she says, "the lessons I learned there as a student pretty much set the tone for my personal and professional life. It's so meaningful to know that the donation will go towards making a Madeira education more accessible to those who may not otherwise be able to afford it and providing them with a life-changing opportunity."

Most military children will move one to three times during high school so having a continuous four-year experience at one high school can be an important gift. After traveling for much of her formative years, Sue attended Madeira and found herself "in an environment that fostered confidence and empowerment. As young women, we were expected to have a voice and advocate not just for ourselves, but for those around us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

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True

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