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When your holidays aren’t merry and bright

The holidays are a busy time for therapists.

The question

For a number of personal reasons, I’m feeling like a total Grinch about the holidays. I feel bad because I know I’m supposed to feel happy. Any suggestions?

The holidays are a busy time for therapists. People who are lonely, unemployed, divorcing, grieving and otherwise struggling often feel guilty that they can't take on a "'tis the season to be jolly" attitude.

Nobody puts pictures of frowning families on their Christmas cards. But it doesn't mean that people aren't struggling. Children of newly divorced families often feel the separation more profoundly as they are shuffled between parents, while the parents themselves may feel sad and lonely when their children are with the former spouse.

Similarly, the holidays can accentuate the grief of anyone who has recently lost a loved one with whom they have celebrated in the past. Some people would rather be alone or with friends than gather with difficult and/or abusive relatives. And of course, the unemployed and underemployed feel the strain in a whole different way.

For those who find these words ring truer than jingle bells, here are few things you can do to beat the holiday blues:

Know you're not alone. Many people are in the same boat; they're just not posting it all over Facebook.

Refrain from judging your feelings. Telling yourself that you "should" feel happy when you don't will only make you feel worse. Observe your feelings with equanimity and remember that feelings aren't facts and that they usually pass.

Volunteer. Working in a soup kitchen, delivering meals to homebound elderly and engaging in other forms of service will probably make you feel good and put life in perspective.

Spend time with caring friends who lift your spirits.

Remember that things can change. Just because the holidays are challenging this year doesn't mean they will always be this way.

Count your blessings. We all have something for which to be grateful -- our health, a job, a friend, food in the fridge, a roof over our heads -- if we look hard enough.

Embrace the spiritual and humanitarian
aspects of the holidays that often get lost in the commercialism.

Consult a pscyhotherapist if you've been feeling down for awhile.

And for all those fortunate souls who can honestly sing, "It's the most wonderful time of the year," consider whether there is another spot at your table, gift under your tree or spare potato latke for someone you know who may need a little holiday cheer.

— Kim Schneiderman, MSW, LCSW, is a psychotherapist and former journalist with a private

practice in New York City.

This column is not intended to be used as a substitute for a private consultation with a mental health professional, nor is this therapist to be held liable for any actions taken as a result of this column. If you have any concerns related to the content of this column, please make an appointment with a licensed mental health professional. E-mail Kim your questions at askkim@metro.us.

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