Holidays mean different things for different people. For some of our clients, it is their favorite time of the year no matter the state of their marriage or custody arrangement. For others, it is a time with immense stress, conflict, sadness, or anxiety. This year, we talked to many of our alumni clients and current clients and asked them what their current self would tell their former self about how to survive the holidays. Based on those conversations, we have come up with a list of tips based on their experiences to help you have a joyful holiday season:
1. Don’t neglect your support network. Set time on the calendar to spend with friends and/or family who value you. If your schedule is too hectic, then schedule phone calls with them.
2. Reflect upon what you do have. Rather than focusing on what you don’t have, think about the things and people in your life that you are grateful for. Focus on the positive.
3. Have chocolate at every meal.
4. Ask for help. No one says you have to do it all. And if they do, ignore them. Delegate present wrapping, decorating, shopping, cooking, baking, laundry, you name it.
5. Create new traditions. Rather than mourn the loss of your old traditions, create new ones with your child. If you can’t have a meal with your child on Christmas Day, pick another day to have your celebration. Consider having a condensed version of the 12 Days of Christmas. Or go out of town and make it a special trip.
6. Don’t expect a “perfect” holiday. Honestly, in reflecting, has there ever been a perfect holiday or a perfect family? We can hold high expectations of what the holidays should be, but that is an idealized version. Try to be realistic in your expectations to lessen your stress and disappointment.
7. If you don’t want to be alone, you don’t have to be. Besides going to a friend’s or family member’s house, you can embrace the spirit of giving by volunteering in a soup kitchen, with children in group homes, or with the elderly in various facilities.
8. Remember your children have the right to a happy holiday season, too. As much as you miss them, they will be sad if you remind them how much you miss them or tell them what they are missing out on at your house. Instead, tell them you love them and will see them soon. And if you have your children on the holiday, be sure to have them call the other parent as you would want if the situation was reversed.
9. Moderation is your friend. As tempting as it is to overeat or be over-beveraged, those good feelings only last temporarily and your feel worse and may trigger feelings of guilt and shame.
10. Practice self-care. Go for a walk. Take some alone time. Meditate. Book a spa appointment. Whatever it is that helps you relax.
11. Remember it is only a few weeks. If the holidays get you down or cause you to feel anxious, remember that you can survive a few weeks. You’ve survived harder times in your life.
12. Simplify. If you find yourself being overwhelmed and overextended, go for a simple holiday celebration. Most people will remember the time together and not what was served for dinner or how the house was decorated. And the ones that give you attitude about the simplicity may need to be uninvited next year!
Above all else, be kind to you. Don’t take anything anyone says personally. And practice mindfulness. We can all be better versions of ourselves if we think before we speak and act and do not assume others’ motivations for their words and actions. Lots of people are under extraordinary stress during the holidays for a variety of reasons. And family seems to trigger stress reactions like no one else can. Even more so sometimes when it is your “ex-family.” BREATHE! We will get through this. TOGETHER!