By Laura Petherbridge
The holiday season can be an excruciating time of year for those who’ve experienced a loss. In addition to the death of a loved one, divorce, illness, family trauma, job loss, a wayward child, or moving to a new location can cause serious depression during the holidays.
After having lived in a stepfamily for decades, I’ve definitely experienced “meltdown moments” and extreme loneliness during the holidays. However, the Christmas after my divorce was by far the worst holiday of my life.[epq-quote align=”align-right”]Take a moment during this season of “good cheer” and consider people in your congregation or small group who may be in the wake of loss.[/epq-quote]Everyone assumed I was spending the day with someone else. I already felt like a pathetic loser, so I was too embarrassed to say, “I have nowhere to go for the holidays. May I come to your house?”
Take a moment during this season of “good cheer” and consider people in your congregation or small group who may be in the wake of loss. Or, it may even be you wading through a period of grief.
Here are a few suggestions for navigating what can be a difficult time for many:
The ambush of emotions can attack at any time, therefore the wisest response is to prepare beforehand. Pinpoint a time you believe may be particularly difficult such as Christmas morning, or Thanksgiving meal. Then determine a plan beforehand.
Have the phone number of your counselor, church, close friend or a hotline already programmed into your phone. Plan to call someone if negative thoughts become intense. Seek out a support group that specializes in your loss; many of them have events targeted to ease the pain during the holidays.
Accept your reality
The difficulty of this time of year may be a reminder of your loss. Remember that it’s a season and it will pass. Don’t feel guilty if your goal for the holidays this year is to “get through it.”
Don’t hibernate. Insecure feelings may tempt you to isolate, but force yourself to go out even if it’s only for a short time. We were made for community.
Lower your expectations
Movies and songs often paint a very unrealistic picture of the holidays. Most people don’t have a Norman Rockwell family—and that’s OK.
Don’t medicate with the wrong things
A common tendency is to seek to dull the pain with drugs or alcohol. Numbing emotional distress with chemicals often creates more depression and anxiety. Plus you may do something you’ll regret.
Give yourself permission to pass on painful traditions
If old ornaments or trimmings cause too much pain don’t hang them this year. Put them aside for another time. Avoid fragrances, music, or locations that may trigger sadness.
Take care of your physical well-being. Healthy foods will give you strength; fattening foods and sugar can make you sluggish or even worsen depression. Exercise produces natural stress reducers.
Going to the mall can be stressful. But watch for over-spending as it may be a negative coping mechanism with disastrous results.
If weather permits, get outside
Get some sunshine. Winter can take its toll on our emotions due to a loss of sun we experience. Try taking a walk during lunch.
Precisely explain to your family and friends what you are capable of doing this year, and what you aren’t. Don’t let others guilt you into taking on more than you can handle.
Empathize with others
People who have never suffered loss may not understand your pain during the holidays. In particular if your loss isn’t obvious such as the death of a loved one, you may need to explain why you are struggling.
Do something completely different this year. Visit a friend, take a cruise, go to the mountains or the beach, go skiing or hiking. Find someone else who may be struggling this year and make plans.
LAURA PETHERBRIDGE (@TheSmartStepmom) is an international author and speaker who serves couples and single adults with topics on relationships, stepfamilies, divorce prevention, and divorce recovery. She is the author of several books, and can be found at TheSmartStepmom.com.