The holidays can be a stressful time for even the happiest of families, with increased togetherness and financial strain accompanying the yuletide joy. For those who are in the process of divorce or separation or who have recently divorced, it can be a whole other level of painful emotion and stress. Those who are newly divorced watch others around them get excited about the holidays, approaching festivities with joy and holiday cheer, while they endure a different type of emotional experience. It is a difficult time, a time of transition, and the holidays may bring up painful memories and feelings of loss. Often those who are newly divorced anticipate and experience the holidays with anxiety, loneliness, sadness, and grief.
If you are experiencing holiday blues related to recent divorce or separation, consider some of these strategies and suggestions to help you cope. These tips are intended to support you in surviving the holiday season:
1: Take good care of yourself physically:
- Try and keep yourself healthy in terms of adequate sleep, a healthy diet, and plenty of exercise to improve your ability to cope.
2: Take good care of yourself emotionally:
- Validate your own experience. The holidays are hard right now. Don't force yourself to pretend this is not the case but do tell yourself that you can and will get through it.
- Give yourself a break. Self-nurture and show yourself love and compassion during this difficult time. Connect with activities that lift your spirits.
3: Set limits and boundaries:
- Establish boundaries with your family and friends and don't take on more than you can handle. Communicating with the people who care about you will help them be more sensitive to your needs.
4: Create a schedule:
- Organize yourself by making lists of what you need to do and when each task needs to be completed. Feeling overwhelmed emotionally makes everything more difficult. An organized list will help you feel more on top of things and less stressed.
5: Do not isolate yourself:
- Surround yourself with supportive friends or family members who understand that you might not be in full holiday cheer mode. If you need to spend some alone, give yourself that time, but don't hunker down and avoid the holidays completely. Get out of the house and be around people who care.
- Ask for help from your support network if you are feeling depressed, lonely, or isolated.
- Consider outside support as well. Call your therapist or attend a divorce support group in your area. Keep support hotline numbers handy.
6. Create new traditions:
- Look at which past traditions bring comfort and which do not. There may be some old traditions you may choose to hold on to, but you don't have to keep them all. Allow yourself to discard traditions that you no longer feel drawn to.
- Create some new rituals with family and friends. Begin new traditions as you begin a new phase of life.
7: Focus on your children:
- If you have children, decide ahead of time how holidays will be divided. Create a plan that is clear, balanced, and acts in the best interest of the children. Keep arrangements as clear-cut as possible to minimize confusion for the children and to avoid unnecessary conflict with the other parent.
- Provide reassurance for your children that the holidays will be enjoyable even though they will be different this year. Allow your children to be part of the process of creating new holiday traditions.
- Focus on making your children's holidays cheerful, joyful, and bright, staying as present-focused as possible.
- If you do not get to spend the holidays with your children this year, plan an earlier or later celebration. Be reassuring and do not make them feel guilty.
8: Practice healthy coping strategies:
- Don't numb your emotional distress with drugs or alcohol, even though this might be tempting. This will just perpetuate the depression.
- If you do decide to drink, set your limits and stick with them. Stay accountable.
- Do not drink and drive – Designate a driver or call a taxi or rideshare. The stress of a DUI will only compound the situation.
- Be aware of what healthy coping strategies work for you and be ready to use them. (e.g. breathing exercises, journaling, exercise, talking to a trusted friend, etc.)
9. Consider volunteering:
- This can be a great way to divert the focus from your own issues. Giving back will simultaneously lift your spirits and help those in need. Consider donating your time to a worthy cause (e.g. shelter, hospital, nursing home, etc.)
10. Remember that you WILL survive:
- The first holiday season post-divorce is likely to be the most challenging, but it will get easier. Take it one day at a time and one holiday at a time. You will get through it!