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Struggling at Christmas time

Martin McKenna urges us to spread some positivity and kindness at Christmas time

Written by Martin McKenna | View this authors Twitter page and posted in opinion

This is an opinion of a young person and does not necessarily reflect the opinion of It is one person's experience and may be different for you. If you'd like to write something for please contact

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From a personal point of view, Christmas is a time of year that I absolutely love. Coming from such a big family, it is very rare when I get to have all the people I love and grew up with under the one roof. I am an incredibly nostalgic individual and on an annual basis I am amazed to see the progress my brothers and sisters have made in their lives in comparison to my earliest memories. I see this through their increasing numbers of offspring, their ever-growing levels of wisdom and from the stories they share between one another of the year gone by. Aside from documenting the differences, some things in my house will never change. My brother Colin will always want to sing Karaoke, Mam will always make an unbelievable Sherry Trifle and there will always be a period during the day where we all share in a mass hibernation to see off the food coma which we have inflicted upon ourselves. Christmas time for me is magic, yet for others, that is most definitely not the case.

In general, winter can be extremely tough time. The daily grind of seeing dull skies above our heads, constantly battling against the cold and in many cases devoting all our quota of daylight to work or college is something that can take it's toll on our ability to remain upbeat. There is an undoubted strain that winter puts on Irish individuals and for many, Christmas is a time where that strain can be forgotten and a release can be achieved.

Christmas can be a tough time

Others however, are not so lucky. Christmas can fan the flames of financial struggles for families and individuals who find it difficult to make ends meet at the best of times. The society we live in expects an exceedingly high level of spending and unfortunately, people's opinion of one another is too often formulated by the amount of money invested in the purchasing of a material gift. Gift exchange for many is more about appeasement rather than an alignment to one of the core fundamentals of what Christmas should really be about.

There are also the unfortunate cases of people who have lost loved ones around this time of year in the past. For those unlucky enough to find themselves in this scenario, Christmas will forever be a time when painful past experiences are amplified by continuous references in the media or from others in their surroundings towards spending time with the people closest to you and being 'happy'. Again society places an expectation on us to be happier at Christmas time than we would normally be on any given day. This can work against anyone who has ever had to suffer through the experience a great loss. All of these references accumulate and snowball to accentuate a feeling of despair and force people to confront an obvious gaping void which can never be filled.

The Christmas season is an emotional whirlwind that can put a spotlight on feelings of failure and loneliness just as much as it can evoke happiness. It is so easy to let the mind drift into poisonous, self-harming thoughts of pointlessness and irrelevance. It is a sad truth that the holiday season for large numbers is more about battening down the hatches and making it out the other side as opposed what it really should be about.

The thing that scares me the most however is that for a lot of people, these strenuous feelings are buried beneath a hardened exterior of stubbornness and in many cases; denial. A lot of people choose to retain the crosses that they bare and suffer in silence. In your inner circle of friends and family, somebody could be suffering greatly beneath the surface and it could be honestly something that you would never cop onto because that person has perfected a technique to keep it hidden from the world.

The holiday season offers so many trigger points that can overwhelm anyone suffering from break-ups/separations, grieving for lost loved ones, or going through financial struggles. My wish for anyone that is reading this post is that you take it upon yourself to give a bit more time and effort towards the more human elements of Christmas.

Spreading positivity at Christmas time

Obviously this should start with the people closest to you, but there should be nothing stopping you from extending generosity to people you bump into on the street if the chance ever arises. One random act of kindness could potentially have the power to completely overhaul somebody’s outlook on life. Sewing one seed of happiness could potentially have a ripple effect which could see dozens more benefit. It may be a long shot that this might occur but at the same time it will never happen unless you take initiative and try.

There are a lot of justifiable reasons to dislike Christmas and people are perfectly entitled to take that standpoint if they want. There are others though whose hand is forced and they were simply not given the choice of formulating the opinion of negative associations to this part of the year. These are the people that need extra attention and care off those closest to them.

If you are in a situation where you yourself are struggling and you feel as if you do not have any friends or family to call upon, there are other avenues of release now and always. You can find potential comfort in volunteering, calling a helpline, or participating in one of the many charity events that get organised for around Christmas time. There are many other examples but it is about finding whatever works best for you. A proactive approach to life can open doors which would have never been opened otherwise.

I will finish this post by pleading with you to attempt to spread some positivity over the next couple of weeks. Both to those nearest to you and where possible to those you may only ever see once in your lifetime. As I have said earlier on, Christmas has the power to amplify emotions so please challenge yourself to be as kind as you can to those around you in the upcoming weeks. People on the receiving end of your kindness could potentially be riding the high of that amplified positivity for years to come.

I hope all my friends, family, and anyone else who might be reading this, have a fantastic, safe and happy Christmas!

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Published December 22nd, 2014
Last updated September 29th, 2015
Tags christmas mental health
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