This one goes out to everyone whose holidays won't look anything like the Hallmark-style template that twinkles across every screen and pa-rum-pum-pum-pums out of every speaker in every store at this time every year.
We here at HCPL understand that despite what we see in all the ads on TV, lots of folks do not have smiling, happy, cardigan-wearing families to come home to nor do those without families invariably have a smiling, happy, cardigan-wearing neighbor to transform them through the sheer radiance of the Christmas spirit into smiling, happy, cardigan-wearing new friends.
Some of us will be alone this holiday season and nearly everywhere we look we will be told in one way or another that it is our own failures that have caused us to be set adrift when everyone else seems to be basking in the glow of familial love. We understand because many of us have been there or are there now. We know that there are as many reasons for holiday loneliness as there are people experiencing it: families break apart, employment pressures force dislocation and loss of connections, tough economic times make living up to the consumerist standard a soul-crippling impossibility, and loved ones pass on. The list goes on, but the common factor is that none of it is one person's fault.
If you take nothing else from this article, take this: you are not really alone. Many forces are at work in all of our lives and many of them are well beyond our control. There are resources to help you get through whatever you are going through. All you need to do is ask. But, we realize, that for many people, asking for help is extremely hard. This article has both do-it-yourself tips to get you through as well as contact information for services you may need if you find yourself overwhelmed.
We also understand that many people who seem to have everything the pop culture Christmas template says they should--right down to the perfect and perfectly wrapped presents for everyone on their list can be as stressed and depressed as anyone. Perfection--or the pursuit of it--can take a lot out of one without giving much in return. If this sounds like you, the ideas and resources below are for you, too.
Stop blaming yourself
When things aren't going the way we think they should, it is easy to fall into a deepening pit of self-blame. You start blaming yourself for a pandemic-related layoff and the next thing you know you feel responsible for the pandemic itself. Yes, maybe you made a poor decision here or there. Maybe you cut ties with people who love you, or took good things for granted. Maybe you shouldn't have eaten the whole package of double-stuff Oreos last night. We all have any number of regrets we hold onto. But, the first step to something better is clearing a path to it. Right now is as good a time as there will ever be to start ridding yourself of recurring, counterproductive thought patterns that are real obstacles on your road to happier times. Here are some books to help you start treating yourself better. You can find many, many more in HCPL's catalog.
Eating well is the best revenge.
Sure, delivery is convenient, but nothing can lift one's spirits like the smell of something good bubbling on the stove. Your place feels cozier and doing something special just for yourself is a good way to start the new year. You don't have to splurge on ingredients or try something beyond your skill level to make yourself feel special. Think comfort food and don't feel obligated to stick to the traditional holiday menu. This is your party, so you do you. Put on some good music, listen to an audiobook or a favorite podcast, and just take your time to enjoy the process of chopping and sauteeing and all the other small steps that go into making a meal. The pots, pans, and dishes? Those can wait till tomorrow.
Okay, so spending time slicing and dicing in the kitchen may not be everyone's idea of a good time, but that doesn't mean you can't enjoy some traditional and non-traditional holiday fare. A lot of national chains are open 365 days a year and will have special holiday menus. Thinking of sushi or barbecue instead? Chances are good you can find a place open here: Houston Area Christmas Day Tables.
Take time to enjoy the things that make you feel good
Sometimes, the hardest thing to deal with during the holidays is all the extra time we may have on our hands. We can't throw ourselves into work or all the small tasks that fill other days, but the extra hours can be opportunities to find a new hobby or learn a new skill. A sense of accomplishment in creating something or learning can be a tonic for the soul. The important thing here is to avoid judgmental thoughts. Do something for the sheer pleasure of doing it. If you don't know where to start, think back to what you loved doing as a child. Chances are good that it will still bring a little joy.
Similarly, there is a lot to be said for simple pleasures: taking hot baths, rewatching favorite shows, tidying up your living space, or getting a little exercise. Harris County offers wonderful parks with hiking and biking trails. A walk in nature or just around your neighborhood can do wonders for your mental well-being.
It's okay to wallow (to a point).
Sometimes, you just have to feel your feels. It can be cathartic to flush out the pipes, so to speak. This isn't for everyone. The last thing anyone needs is a downward spiral, but allowing yourself to see that your feelings are valid can be the first step to making things better. Many of us, particularly older generations, were taught that feelings of sadness, vulnerability, and loneliness are not allowed and are somehow shameful. That is just not true. Everyone is entitled to experience life and that, invariably, entails difficult emotions. So, if you are up to it, go ahead. Listen to the saddest Christmas songs, watch the saddest movies, and let the tears flow.
Then, stop, wipe your eyes, and get on with your life.
Find comfort in the company of others
Houses of worship across Harris County welcome non-members year round, but especially this time of year. Whether you want to connect, reconnect, or just be among others for a shared experience, you can find one that suits you.
Hunker down and tune out the whole thing.
If the standard Christmas template says anything, it says that this time of year is made for a certain type of people. Maybe, for those of us who don't fit into that mold, the sanest response is just to ignore the whole tinsel-strewn, holly-jolly shmear. Since the broadcast networks won't make that easy, we will need to do our own programming. HCPL's digital collection is a great place to start--always free with your library card and no commercials. You can download eBooks and audiobooks, and stream movies and music any time of day or night.
If you're hungry, hurting, or cold, support is a call or a click away.
Suicide and Mental Health Crisis Support: TEXT 988
Anxiety & Depression (MHA peer-to-peer online support group)
LGBTQIA+ Switchboard Houston 24-Hour Helpline: 713-529-3211
National Domestic Violence Hotline: 800-799-7233