The holidays are synonymous with images of good times, parties, and family gatherings. All things merry and bright, right? Sure, that is the goal but what you see on Facebook or Instagram, in a commercial, or in other people’s photos, is not always so simple as a reality for everyone. I am here to tell you that it is 100% okay not to be okay with the holidays.
The holiday season can also be an extremely challenging time for anyone going through emotional difficulty, who maybe didn’t have the picture-perfect holidays growing up, who is missing a family member who is no longer here, or who is going through a major life change including separation or divorce. The holidays immediately following a separation or divorce can be their own kind of challenge. The bottom line is that the holidays are not always merry and bright for everyone and can be an extremely stressful time. Many people are full of anxiety, stress, loneliness, and let down. Watching other people blissfully glide through this time of year can only add to the pain and struggle.
You can do some simple things to make this time of year happier, more manageable from a stress perspective, and get you ready to move into the new year on a positive note.
Be where you are. If you are having a tough time, do not beat yourself up. Let other people in your circle know. Get support. Do not try to put on a happy face if you are not feeling happy. It is okay to find a way to connect with people where you are. You will find that being authentic about your situation rather than keeping it in will help you feel less isolated and more supported.
Start a new tradition. Is this your first year having to share the holiday residential time with your kids with their other parent? If you do not have children, is this your first year post divorce trying to navigate what that looks like and the loss of old traditions and annual plans? Are you in the middle of the divorce process dealing with uncertainty and feel you cannot focus on anything else? You are not alone in any of these situations. One of the best things you can do is to establish a new tradition. Have the kids the week before the holiday and not on Christmas this year? Start a tradition of a “Christmas Pre-Funk.” Do all the things and make it a special day that will be the same every year when you do not have the actual holiday. Watch holiday movies, build a gingerbread house, whatever if fun for you and your crew. If it is your first holiday without a former spouse or partner, pick something you have always wanted to do and use the holiday season as the time to do it. Always wanted to go to the opera or symphony and your ex was never into it? See if one is playing and take your mom! Nutcracker with your best friends? Book it. Consider going and cutting down your own Christmas tree for the first time. Why not? Never been caroling but always wanted to try, no matter how bad your voice is? Do it. The point is, you can take a new situation and meet it with a new tradition that will give you something to look forward to every year and represents your new start.
Be Good to your Body. I do not know any true happiness that does not have a foundation of healthiness, mental and physical. I do not mean get out and run a pre-Christmas marathon or that you have to do that turkey trot before your Thanksgiving feast but DO take care of your body. Get out for a walk before what could be a stressful family gathering or a big meal. Take simple steps throughout the day to avoid staying sedentary. Do not put off exercise until the new year and think that January is when it is time to get that gym membership. Start healthy habits, no matter what they are, and be good to your body. Your outlook will feel brighter. Your mind and body will thank you.
Set boundaries and limits. It is important that we start saying no to things that are not good for us or that we do not want to do, so we can conserve our emotional energy to say “yes” to the people, places, and things that we want to save our energy for. Saying no allows you to make room for your own yes. Setting boundaries and limits with yourself and others is critical. If you are scrambling to get every last thing done for holiday preparation or feel that you have to be there for every little thing, you are stretching yourself too thin. Let go of the pressure. Know your limits with others and do not be afraid to say no. Oh, and if you do want to discuss your divorce around the holidays that is okay. Well-meaning friends and family may very well ask so you ca simply say not now and tell people that although you are sure they have questions and appreciate the support, this is not the time for you to talk about it. Do not be afraid to be selfish with your time and your feelings.
Above all, do what is right for you. There is no one size fits all when it comes to holiday self-care, but hopefully these few tips give you somewhere to start. Be sure and check in with your therapist or mental health professional if things get too heavy for you. Lean on your support network. Please know that 2022 has the potential to be your best year ever.