Updated: Mar 3, 2019
My kids are going to be with the ex for the first time this year. How do you celebrate alone?
My wife’s cheating on me, but we can’t talk about it until after the holidays. For the kids.
Dad isn’t doing well. I wonder if this is going to be our last Christmas together.
I’m in a new city, away from family and I am so lonely.
I couldn’t buy them presents this year. I am such a bad mom.
These are some of the topics we hear from both our individuals and families in group practice. For some, are simply wonderful; and they can be hell when you are hurting.
It feels so isolating. Others announcing happy news, exchanging gifts, laughing, catching up; enjoying the holiday season. All the traditions that once brought joy hurt even more when you realize they just aren’t the same.
I just can’t find anything to celebrate this year.
This is awful. I don’t want to get out of bed. I CAN’T get out of bed.
I don’t want to exchange gifts, my kids wouldn’t even talk to me when I tried to ask them what they wanted this year. Just wake me up when its over.
I think I’ll just tell everyone I’m sick.
This is so isolating.
Of course, it feels like you are alone in this. While it is true that there are millions who suffer along with you during these holidays, many of us suffer separately, ghosts in our respective crowds.
The holidays may highlight your unhappiness and distress, especially if you are facing the loss or potential loss of connection. Our pain poignantly points to what the holidays are really about when you don’t have them: relationships. The gift is family and those we care about; the real gifts are the time we spend with those who mean the most. They are about sharing the traditions, the experiences. Without others, these are hollow jokes.
I remember one holiday season when I was experiencing cut off from my family. I mourned the traditions we once created together, remembering fondly our time together and feeling all the more pain because of it.
But I also had a budding support with new friends and family (doesn’t have to be blood relation to be family), after I allowed myself the space to realize it. We baked cookies, sat and watched Christmas movies, and just chatted. While it was not my nuclear family’s tradition, I allowed myself to reach out and make new connections that were vital to my mental health during the holiday season.
If you are hurting because of relationships this year you have some choices and decision you can make. You have some control.
Here are 5 strategies to help cope with survival mode:
1. Allow/Accept Feeling
Sit with your feelings, acknowledge them; even the most intense feelings will lessen over time. If you have suffered an unimaginable loss, and cannot wrap your mind around ever feeling better, sit with this. In our therapy practice we see this, we witness this, we hold space for this. Allowing yourself to feel in the moment helps the intensity lessen over time. Oh my goodness you will still feel it from time to time, but accepting your feelings gives you more agency over the floodgates.
2. Be Gentle with Yourself
When it pain, we often beat ourselves up. We start with “I should have…” and “If only….” which can spiral into “I’m not worth it…” and “I deserve this…” Validate your feelings; feelings are real. And you can’t stop there; literally your happiness depends on it. Ask yourself, “If my child or someone I love deeply were saying these things to themselves, what would I say?” Tell those things to yourself. Practice. You may not believe the kind things at first. Show yourself some gentleness when you notice yourself being to harsh.
3. Connect with Others
When you are hurting, reach out to friends or family (again, does not have to be blood family) for support, even if you have to push yourself. Connection can soothe pain. Even if it sounds like the last thing you want to do. Even if you are worried about being an imposition or burden. Reach out. Even if it is a one line email to extended family, or a quick text to a friend you haven’t talked to in a couple years. Reach out.
4. Start New Traditions
One thing we CAN count on, is that life changes. Eventually, all traditions are altered in some manner. Kids grow up and move out, relationships end, members are added to the family; relationships change. Traditions feel good because they are structured. They are the same year to year and that feels safe. Humans are creatures of habit and, like connection, crave what is comfortable. While starting a new tradition may feel uncomfortable or “wrong” or like “betrayal” the first couple years it is implemented, it will begin to feel safe and comfortable, I assure you. Maybe you volunteer at a shelter, maybe you invite friends over for a meal, maybe you run a 5k the morning of each holiday (my Dad started that one, for our family!). Make a new tradition meaningful to you.
5. Practice Self-Care
Oh yes. What we are lacking in connection and tradition during the holiday season, we can make up with by caring for ourselves. This is important year-round but especially important when we feel vulnerable and hurt. As stated before, self-care is an individualize thing- do what works for you. But also knowing that self-care can look so different for everyone. Find what works for you.
Getting out of bed and standing on the porch
Doing a forward bend and massaging your legs
Driving the park
Cuddling a pet
Listening to music
Jumping up and down
Walking outside for 5 minutes
These are just several tips to surviving the holiday season. If connection is still a struggle, never hesitate to call your friendly local therapist. That could be the ultimate gift of self-care this holiday season. Wishing you connection, gentleness and healing this holiday season.