The holidays are upon us once again and, for many, that means additional stress and anxiety. According to an American Psychological Association study, nearly 40% of people surveyed said their stress levels rise during the holiday season. We all know that increased pressures on time and finances will make even the most joyous occasion a little less cheery. Add a recent divorce or separation to the mix and this time of year can be downright daunting.
If this is your first holiday season during or after a divorce, here are some practical tips to help you through.
Acknowledge the Transition
No doubt about it, this will be a difficult time and it is important to recognize that fact. It will not serve you to attempt to minimize your feelings or deny them altogether. In fact, trying to do so is likely to cause you to feel even worse.
Sadness, loss, and grief are entirely expected emotions right now. So are disappointment, hurt, and even anger. When you feel those responses come up, be kind to yourself and remember that what you are feeling will not last forever.
Writer and activist Prentis Hemphill defines boundaries as “the distance at which I can love you and love me simultaneously.” Setting boundaries of what is okay and what is not okay for you is essential for healthy self-esteem. The beauty of having good boundaries is it also improves your relationship with others.
Setting and preserving your boundaries will help to protect your emotional health and improve your mental state. Be clear with which gatherings you will attend and how long you will stay. It can also be beneficial to articulate what types of behavior or conversation topics are acceptable to you.
Have a Plan (And a Backup Plan)
When life is in transition, it is important to have a plan while remaining flexible. Creating a plan for how you will celebrate the holidays will give you something to look forward to and is also critical if this is your first season to co-parent. However, it’s okay if plans change or you find yourself feeling overwhelmed or uncomfortable at a gathering and would rather leave. Create a contingency plan with a sympathetic friend or family member if you think you might find yourself in a difficult situation.
Focus on Your Children
While you may not feel like celebrating the holidays this year, your children likely do. If you prioritize their comfort and joy, you will find it brings you happiness as well. Keep any conflicts regarding co-parenting or logistics away from your children. Give them the permission to enjoy and celebrate the holidays.
Release the Old Holiday Traditions and Embrace the New
When going through a divorce, it’s the perfect opportunity to discard old holiday traditions you did not care for and try new ones. Maybe it is a special meal or a trip to a new location. Let go of the traditions you did solely for your former spouse and look for new activities which allow you to celebrate in a way that is personal to you.
Take Time to Practice Self-Care
Regularly practicing self-care does not mean you are being selfish or self-indulgent. Instead, a routine of self-care allows you to achieve a level of physical and emotional health which will better equip you to help others and live a more fulfilled life. Self-care does not (and should not) mean a pricey trip to the spa. Some of the best forms of self-care involve regularly mediating, journaling, or walking in nature. If it nourishes you on an emotional and/or spiritual level, it is self-care.
Adopt an Attitude of Gratitude
Multiple studies have strongly linked happiness with gratitude. Essentially, the more a person feels gratitude, the more satisfaction and appreciation (happiness) they experience. Practicing gratitude goes much deeper than posting “#grateful” on social media. Cultivating an attitude of gratitude is a daily practice which reaps great rewards.
Take some time either in the early morning or before you go to sleep to list all the things you are grateful for each day. At first, they may seem small, or the list may seem short in comparison to your troubles. However, as you move through this part of your life with an attitude of gratitude, you will find more and more things to be thankful for. And isn’t that what the holiday season is really about?