For some, the holidays can be stressful even under the best of circumstances. However, for the newly separated or divorced they can be an especially difficult time. Coping with separation, divorce and loss is MAGNIFIED as the holidays approach. While others eagerly anticipate the holidays, newly separated and divorced people often approach this time of year with panic, sadness and dread. Many feel overwhelmed by the stress and strain of trying to maintain the status quo when in fact their world is collapsing around them.
Although there is no magical cure or solution for the “holiday blues”, there are things you can do to make it easier to cope. Your divorce is not the end of your life, the end of your family, the end of your happiness or the end of your holidays. Even during separation and divorce, it is possible to find joy during the holidays. Things will change, but you’ll get the joy back. Here are a few tips that will help you move forward.
TAKE A POSITIVE APPROACH: Be patient with yourself and your family. Take one holiday at a time and try to recapture some of the joy you experienced as a child during the holidays.
It is especially important to plan ahead if you have children. The holidays post divorce will not only be different for you but also for your children. If you’re facing the holidays alone because your children are spending them with your former spouse, you should start planning now.
Talk to your children. Be sure they understand where they will be spending the holiday. Explain you’ll miss them but are happy they’ll be having fun, and that you want them to have a good time. Reassure them that you will be okay while they are with the other parent and keep the arrangements as simple as possible. Be fair in deciding where your children will spend their time. Remember generosity breeds generosity. Be flexible.
Plan when you and your children will celebrate. This could be an alternate day, an alternate time, or an alternate place. For example, if your children will be with your former spouse on Thanksgiving day, celebrate the next day. If you won’t be together on Christmas, plan another time to celebrate. Perhaps you might create a new tradition and plan a tree decorating party earlier in the month. Holidays with your children happen when you make them.
Be Proactive. If family and friends may not be around, consider helping out with festivities at church or community organizations.
Plan to do something that is fun, relaxing and as stress-free as possible with people you really care about. If the holidays are just too painful and reminders are everywhere, consider taking a vacation that will allow you to “escape” the painful triggers. I had a friend who spent every Christmas until she remarried in Mexico.
Simplify. Your divorce may cause you to take a look at your priorities. You may have downsized, have less income and/or less time. Having a budget is especially important this year when funds may be somewhat more limited. Watch your budget. Lists offer a way to help you stay on track and manage your post divorce budget. Make a list, check it twice and stick to it.
Look at all holiday expenses. These would include not only the cost of gifts, but also travel, decorations, holiday parties and charitable contributions.
CHANGE YOUR EXPECTATIONS
Give yourself permission to enjoy the holiday any way you choose. You don’t have to be lonely even if you happen to be alone. “Loneliness is an attitude that can be changed, and aloneness is nothing more than an absence of people” says Dr. Dyer, the author of HOLIDAY BLUES. “If you allow yourself to indulge in self-pity or fantasies of how your holidays ought to be (or used to be) and then permit yourself to become depressed, you’ll be defeating yourself and bringing on the holiday letdown.” Do something you’ve always wanted to do. Perhaps you decide to enjoy a spa day, enroll in an art class or indulge in a little “retail therapy”.
Be flexible. Keep traditions you want but consider creating new rituals and family traditions. Decide what works for you, what doesn’t and edit accordingly. Reassure your kids that holiday celebrations will continue but in a different way. Brainstorm with your kids about new ideas for celebrating.
Be realistic. “Picture perfect” holidays are usually an illusion.
TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF - Get plenty of sleep and exercise and eat healthy in order to maximize your ability to cope. It’s easy to overeat or party too much to ease your pain, but in the long run, it causes more problems. Rest, proper nutrition, limits on alcohol consumption and the companionship of relatives, co-workers and friends can reduce holiday stress.
If you are feeling overwhelmed, anxious, depressed or stuck, GET PROFESSIONAL HELP! Therapy can provide a safe, supportive environment in which you can gain insight, learn problem solving skills and find solutions to deal with the anger of separation and divorce.
ASK FOR HELP FROM SUPPORTIVE FAMILY AND FRIENDS. Tell your support people what you need from them (companionship, compassion, understanding, listening, etc.). If you’re like me, you’re reluctant to ask for help because you feel like you are imposing when in reality your friends would like nothing more than to be there for you, but just don’t know how. Give them the opportunity.
MAKE GIFT-GIVING MORE PLEASURABLE
Practice gift restraint. It’s not about stuff. Holidays are about a generous heart and giving spirit. Be grateful for the good things you have.
Remember it’s not about stuff. Don’t try to buy love or loyalty. Give gifts of time and attention.
It’s easy to fall into the guilt trap, giving expensive and extravagant gifts to show your children you love them or because you don’t want to be “one-upped” by your former spouse. How many times have we given our children expensive or extravagant gifts just to see those gifts sitting in their boxes unused a few days after Christmas?
Parents should divide the child’s wish list and agree not to overindulge.
Give gifts from the heart or that have special meaning such as a family heirloom, a personal belonging of great significance, etc.
You might consider supporting your favorite charities.
So, enjoy your holidays. Even if your life isn't exactly where you'd like it to be right now, the good news is that we all have choices about how and where we spend our holidays, Look at it as an opportunity. By being proactive and exercising these choices about where and when to celebrate the holidays, you can create meaningful traditions for you and your family.