Married, separated, or divorced alike, it’s hard not to feel anxious about the upcoming holiday season. Whether you love it or are dreading it, the 2015 holiday season is just around the corner. Maybe you are feeling that there is no way you are going to get through this year with your emotions in check. You are not alone. Whether you are feeling anger, sadness, grief, frustration, anxiety, etc. it is important to feel balance this time of year. How do you do that, especially if you are still grieving from your divorce? We can’t (and shouldn’t) try to banish these emotions. However, we can be intentional and generate positive emotions to help redistribute the weight of these negative emotions. So how can you do that even if you are feeling completely down this time of year? We’ve blogged previously about ways of helping others and paying it forward as ways to help ourselves emotionally, and ‘tis the season of a vast array of opportunities to help others, but here are some additional ideas for creating positive emotions in your world: Finding Nature: Nature has an amazing way of soothing us without words. Sit down and make a list of places nearby to visit nature. Maybe some are as easy as stepping out your front door and others maybe involve a little bit of a drive. Even that drive to get their can prove to be therapeutic. Nature heals and being in nature, or even viewing scenes of nature, has been shown to reduces anger, fear, and stress. Exercise: It’s no secret that exercise can help to balance your emotions – whether it’s running, walking, yoga, or even a team sport, find what you love and carve time out of your schedule to do it! When you exercise, the body releases endorphins that minimize the sensation of pain. These endorphins elevate your mood and reduce feelings of anxiety. You will also feel better when you exercise and because you are healthier, you will have more energy, and feel more balanced. Distractions: Distractions can be a positive solution for balancing emotions. Although you might be thinking that distractions will just bury your feelings to come out later on, healthy distractions provide positive emotions that will help you to release some of the negative feelings. Make a list of both healthy and unhealthy distractions that you tend to gravitate towards. While an unhealthy distraction like having drinks with friends seems like a good idea in the moment, a healthy distraction like Saturday morning coffee with a friend will prove to be better for your emotions. Focus on the Positive: Right now you might be thinking, “what positive?” At Daisy Camp we love the quote, “There is always, ALWAYS, something to be thankful for.” Maybe you’ve found journaling a helpful process for you through your divorce, which is great, but if you read through it, it may bring on raw and deep negative emotions, so start a separate gratitude journal. Make lists of what you are thankful for (past, present, and future), and try to add to that list daily. When you are feeling down – read that journal. Wishing you strength and positivity as you balance your emotions this holiday season. Remember that, “Nothing can dim the light that shines from within.” Maya Angelou. You will make it through this.
Whether this is your first holiday season post-divorce, or you’ve been through several, it’s likely one of the hardest time of the year for you. Navigating the holidays after a divorce is much like navigating the holidays after the loss of a loved one. You likely are mourning the loss of making new memories and how the holidays “should” look like as a family. It is perfectly normal (and healthy) to have those feelings of dread and angst towards the upcoming holiday season. With the holidays comes the pressure to feel that “it’s the most wonderful time of the year,” when in fact through your grief you might be thinking that it’s the least wonderful time of the year. If this is your first holiday season post-divorce, you probably have a lot of questions going through your head. What will you do? Where will you go? How will you celebrate? How can you even thing of celebrating during this time of grief? Where will the kids be? What if you don’t want to be around people? These questions are completely normal as the holiday season presents itself with some unique challenges to navigate through. It might be difficult to consider your own needs, but now is the time to think about yourself, and what is healthy for YOU. For some that might mean jumping in neck deep into the Thanksgiving/Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanzaa festivities and keeping yourself too busy to think, and for others booking a trip to Mexico and forgetting the holidays even exist might feel like a better option. It’s important to remember that you do not have to give into the pressure of the holidays. Give yourself permission to organize your holiday season is the best way that works for you. You might be thinking “what if I don’t know what’s best for me?” Or “what about the kids?” If you don’t have children it might be easy to skate through the holidays without decorating a tree or baking cookies, but as parents there is always extra pressure to make sure that the holidays still go on for the kids. Create new traditions. Don’t be afraid to break the mold. What may have been all they’ve ever known for the holidays does not define the holidays. All your children need is your love and attention. 20 years from now they won’t remember the year they didn’t have the annual 12 foot Christmas tree, but they will remember laughing through the woods as you tried to find the worst looking Charlie Brown tree you could find! Wishing you luck, laughter, and whatever it takes for you to steer through the holidays this season. May you find your new normal someday, but until then, simply doing what you can to get through is enough too.
This time of year (between Thanksgiving and Christmas/Hanukkah) can bring extra challenges for couples going through divorce. Here are some things to keep in mind if you are in the middle of the process.
- Focus on the positives. Even though there may be conflict and pain, keeping a positive outlook and good attitude can help the holidays feel less tense. Fake it if you need to – sometimes the “pretend” attitude will actually make things feel easier.
- Keep the children out of the conflict. If you have children try and make the holiday special for them by avoiding conflict. If you need to work with a counselor or child specialist in order to make it through the holiday, do so. Whatever you can do to make the children feel special will is important for their well-being.
- Take part in tradition if you can, otherwise, bow out gracefully. Take part in traditions and family events if you can comfortably. Sometimes, the discomfort is too great. Instead of fighting through it, you can avoid the conflict and let people know “I am not comfortable attending, but wish you all the best.”
- Remember how you spend this holiday does not need to be precedential for future holidays. Talk to your attorney or family specialist on parenting time schedules and holiday planning. While you are In the middle of the process, you may agree to temporary parenting schedules to try out certain arrangements to give the children consistency during the process. More permanent arrangements can be made later.
- Find comfort in your spiritual beliefs. If you are religious or have a faith-based practice, utilizing those resources and beliefs can be helpful in difficult times. Sometimes thinking about the meaning behind holidays can be more meaningful and enjoyable, than the celebrations.
- Set new traditions. The holidays during a divorce may be the first opportunity to try new things. Maybe it is the first year you cook the turkey or maybe you start a new Christmas Eve tradition if your parenting schedule allows for it. This may be an exciting opportunity.
- Be kind. Whatever your religious beliefs, holidays are often about love, kindness, and celebration. Spreading cheer may help you to feel better and may make the world around you a little brighter. Such positive energy may be just what you need to get a lift during the holidays.
Recently I did a radio interview about how divorce impacts children during the holidays. One of the first questions asked was, “Isn’t it true that divorce traumatizes children, especially during the holidays?” My response was that divorce is a crisis for a child, but parents can ensure that it doesn’t become a trauma. A crisis fades to a painful but manageable memory, but a trauma feels life-threatening, and can reverberate throughout a lifetime. If a holiday becomes traumatic, a feeling of dread or deep sadness may accompany the holiday year after year. I’d like to share five things divorcing parents can do to help their children cope and find moments of holiday joy during a divorce. The first is for parents to commit to de-escalating conflict to ensure their children are not put in the middle. This ideally involves both parents pushing the pause button on arguments, but even if only one parent opts to not engage in negativity and conflict, the atmosphere will improve around children. Parents need to be mindful to keep from being triggered, and this is good self-care during a divorce. I always recommend the book The Four Agreements to my clients to help them learn ways to disengage from conflict. A second consideration concerns holiday gatherings of extended family or friends. Parents may need to set clear expectations that negative things will never be said about the other parent in the presence or hearing range of the children. Children should be encouraged and supported by both parents to enjoy holiday time and events with each parent and extended family. A third way to support children during the holidays is to stay attuned to them and spend time with them doing things they enjoy. This is a good time to distill holiday celebrations to their essence, and not go into overdrive. If you are in the midst of a divorce, your emotional energy is likely depleted and you may be in crisis yourself. Keep things simple, but show your children they are loved with the gift of your attention and interest. Fourth, it can help to honor the familiar while creating new holiday rituals. If co-parenting is harmonious enough, children may be soothed by maintaining a familiar ritual like decorating the tree, or gathering as a family for a couple of hours on Christmas morning to open stockings. Parents attending children’s school concerts or church pageants together can be similarly reassuring. Finally, I help parents create We Statements during a divorce to provide explanations for their children in a clear, developmentally appropriate, non-blaming and authentic way. A We Statement detailing holiday plans in advance can help children prepare and know what to expect. We Statements are especially effective when prepared and shared jointly by both parents.