And so it begins...


A time for gatherings, parties and festivity.  For some, the holidays mark the time of year when many of us take stock in the events, relationships and changes we experienced over the past year.  These may have been happy or sad milestones..some may have entered new relationships, experienced a birth or blessing, while others may have had to face death of a loved one, end of a relationship or be facing uncertain times. These are the people I direct this post to. 

In this day and age of social media, it is often an impossible task to avoid daily evidence that your life is not going in a direction you thought, or perhaps that you are facing holidays without a beloved family member while others are seemingly #blessed.  In a counseling clinic, the waiting rooms are full of people who are trying to survive the holidays.  Those of us in the field prepare for an influx of new clients who feel suddenly out of place among friends and family who don't understand their pain..they feel isolated and that is a really tough and lonely place to be. This is what I say to you - don't just "survive" the holidays, find a way to write a new story in spite of what has happened in your life...find a way to not only survive the holidays, but learn how to enjoy them once again.  I have shared some ways you can find peace and a bit of yourself in the chaos of a holiday season marked by a difficult year.  


A bit of self disclosure here, otherwise known as "appropriate use of self " - several years ago I found myself in the middle of a divorce.  Not a "festive" time for myself, my children or their father. Not by a long shot. And somehow I believed I was strong enough to push through my own grief and act like the holidays were going to be just as wonderful as in years past, for my children.  I am sure this resonates with so many of you, but I was wrong on so many levels.  What made it almost unbearable to me, other than the fact that I had to split the holidays in half, was the daily November "today I am thankful for.." Facebook posts.  Yet I would read them everyday.  Why? I don't know if I felt I needed to punish myself for failing at marriage or if I was trying to see how the "normal" families were celebrating or if it was a combination of both..but one thing is for sure - It. Was. Not. Healthy. Why would anyone choose to watch others enjoy something you once had, knowing you had just lost it?  Further, we all know deep down that Facebook is not real anyway, right? No one is putting a selfie out there when they look awful or are hating, not only are you grieving your loss, you are comparing your life to a facade.  Don't do it. There are far healthier things you can do with your time..take a sabbatical from social media and replace it with one of the recommendations below.


Not to be grim, but there are so many people out there who are suffering.  Yes, as a therapist I want you to take time to grieve, but if you find yourself wallowing in self-pity, don't.  Get on the internet (because you will not be going on social media) and find a cause close to your heart and call them.  You cannot imagine the accomplishment, fulfillment and therapeutic balance you will feel by just helping others. It sounds cliche, but it is a fact.  For those of you out there who dwell on empirical evidence, try googling "research volunteering helps mood" - the first study listed is from a little institution known as Harvard, have you heard of it?  It suggests that people who volunteer feel more socially connected, thus decreasing feelings of loneliness and depression. I'm not going to argue with Harvard, folks.


Sounds a bit hokey, I know, but again for all you naysayers out there, self-compassion is a thing. It's a concept I use often in practice for anyone who is partaking in negative self talk. What does that mean?  Negative self talk is the very quiet voice in our head telling you that you can't do this.  It's the voice telling you that you are taking too long to "get over" whatever difficulty happened to you this year.  Perhaps it reminds you that you did something self destructive, perhaps you failed at something, perhaps you're just taking too long to grieve the loss of someone or something you held closely. Whatever the reason, you need to learn how to see the yourself through a compassionate lens. We have so much empathy and compassion for others, yet when we need it most, we are unable to conjure any for ourselves.  We are our worst critic, and that does not help you grow from the experience you just had. There are such great works written about self-compassion by Kristin Neff, PhD, Christopher Germer, PhD and Tim Desmond. Without dedicating the whole blog to the practice of self-compassion, in short, be patient with yourself. Allow yourself to feel your pain, acknowledge its existence and BELIEVE you deserve to feel better and you WILL learn to cope with what has "broken" you.  You are not broken.  You have been shook, you have been beat up, and you will come out the other side a better person because of it.  Tell yourself what you would tell a friend in your situation, tell yourself what you want to hear.  Enough said. 


What?  You can't be all things to all people?  You can't.  So figure out what you need for yourself this year, and learn to set limits.  The world is a lot more understanding than you flash here, people know you are having a rough time regardless of how well you think you are hiding it. I am referring to the people who matter, not those who are superficial - it should go without saying that you can say no to the superficials (cue vision of the "plastics" from Mean Girls).  Who cares what they think of you anyway?  In the deepest, darkest times of our lives, we find out who matters and who doesn't.  We learn to prioritize. And I promise you, if try to do it all, you will fail. In our world today, we take on way too much - on a good day - you simply cannot maintain that level of commitment to everything in tough times.  You can't. I'm sorry to break it to you..but the school bake sale will still go on without your grandmas special recipe for lemon squares.  If you MUST contribute, buy some cookies at the grocery store bakery and package them in your own packaging.  No one will know.


I know.  I said to learn to say no.  But that doesn't mean you should be sitting home alone in your thoughts.  You'll get sad or bored and log into social media and already break rule #1.  There are people in your life, either past or present, that really would love the opportunity to help you through this.  Sometimes it's the people who would surprise you the most. Often it's someone who has been through something similar and would jump at the chance to support you.  That's the thing about grief and trauma - once we make it through the other side of it, we look for ways to use it to help others.  It's therapeutic for you AND for them.  It helps them find meaning in their own past suffering, just as you will seek to do once you're stronger. Let them.  You will not regret it.


Ok, I left it til the end, but it needs to be said. You need to be active - you need to go outdoors.  As much as you want to crawl into a ball, pushing yourself to be active actually has physical and emotional benefits.  We all know the obvious physical benefits, but exercise not only keeps you in shape, but it kicks up those "feel good" brain chemicals to help your mood.  It also helps expend adrenaline caused by anxiety and worry, which will also help you sleep.  And, being outdoors will help us regain some Vitamin C that often dips in winter months due to less exposure sunlight.  You will look, feel and sleep better. Enough said on the subject.

All suggestions above will require you to push yourself.  When you find yourself talking yourself out of doing some of these..fight back, PUSH yourself, you'll be so happy you did.  Good luck and know you are not alone!


Elizabeth Murphey is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in private practice in Richmond, Virginia.  Read more about Elizabeth and her services at

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