LIVING beside a train station for many years, you are eventually able to recognise the noise. The shrill screeching of the brakes fracturing suburban silence. The suspicion shortly confirmed by the strobing blue and red staining the overcast evening sky, echoed by the flashing lights in the windows and on the houses that flank the railway line. The police cars blocking off the street, the paramedics in hard-hats, the windowless Incident Response Unit Ambulance leaving with no siren. A lonely sight at any time of year, though it feels especially so. It’s December 21st, four days to go.

Proximity to stranger’s death is a reminder that the season’s apparent surfeit of cheer isn’t as ubiquitous as it seems. Bad times still arrive when they’re not supposed to and refuse to vacate for the holidays. Happiness doesn’t always show up in December, and for those it passes over it can be alienating. Festivities can do precisely the opposite of their intentions, placing added expectation to be cheery on those who are struggling, and added pressure to hide their feelings so as not to ruin the occasion.

Other people’s joy can be suffocating when you’re hurting. You can feel lost beneath it, invisible against it. That’s when loneliness sinks its teeth in. I try to remember that at this time of year, and keep a place in my thoughts for whom a normal day is bad enough.

When you are struggling, the holidays can deepen that struggle. Perversely, it can make everything about this time of year seem engineered to compound it. It’s a time of what feels like compulsory merriment, of togetherness, goodwill and generosity. People are happy. If you don’t have one of those things in your life it can be tough — many have none of them. No wonder this season can seem placed precisely to draw attention to your lack, your isolation, your distance from happiness and from other people. While joy is the traditional prescription, many end up with just the opposite.

If the festive period is tough for you, I’m sorry. I wish real life had the compassion to slow down. I know that when you’re in the trenches, the seasonal myth of universal happiness can make you feel forgotten about, cut off from others. Though it can feel like everyone is having a wonderful time, there are thousands going through family conflict, job loss, homelessness, breakups, financial difficulties, bereavements, illness, divorce and other major life upheaval against an incongruous backdrop of seasonal cheer. If you’re just trying to get through Christmas and New Year, know that you are not alone in feeling overwhelmed, and there are people who care, even if they’ve never met you. You too deserve the same happiness and joy as everybody else, even if it feels inaccessible right now.

Christmas is over, but you can still give yourself the gift of kindness. If you’re feeling bad, give yourself permission to feel that way. It’s okay to not have all the answers right now, and to trust in your ability to get through hard times. Acknowledging that you find this time of year hard can alleviate some of the psychological burden, some of the social expectation. Name what’s causing your pain, no matter how small, trivial or pointless to mention it seems. Say it out loud, or write it down. Trying to deny your feelings, or swim against their current will exhaust you, so stop resisting. Making peace with feeling bad is to be emotionally real — and there’s something radical, powerful even about doing that whilst so many pretend to be happy for the sake of it.

If there’s someone you know who’s having a tough time, who’s been experiencing some personal difficulty, you could check in with them. They might look like they’re doing fine, but the festivities can easily mask someone who’s feeling at sea. A few friendly words, a text, an instant message can mean a lot. A quick chat or a friendly note can be a lifebuoy to grasp onto until the waves settle. Reaching out can give someone permission to feel bad when they feel most compelled to put on a brave face.

Connecting with others is one small way you can relieve the hardships of the present moment, or help relieve someone else’s. On Twitter, thousands are using #joinin to connect with others spending the festive period alone. If you have the time, even 10 minutes to spare, you can help make a bleak period more bearable for someone. The gift of companionship costs nothing and can mean everything to a stranger.

I have no idea who the person was who lost their life last Thursday, or whether it was accidental or intentional. All I know is that somewhere, people are hurting this Christmas. My thoughts are with those who are feeling that loss deeply; friends, family, colleagues, the emergency services. I hope in the days ahead they find some peace.

The same goes for all those having a difficult time now. Remember, despite the trimmings, they’re just days like any other. They will pass. Even if today lays heavy on you, the sun will still set and rise again on a new day filled with possibility tomorrow.

Wishing all of you a peaceful New Year and happy times ahead.