My fiancé and I don’t fight much.
However, since early September, we have been butting heads. He keeps asking about Christmas presents for my kids, and my chest tightens, and I shut down.
I am happy he is thinking of them—but I’m not ready to contemplate Christmas gifts. Yesterday, he broached the subject of where we would spend the holidays…and I cut him off.
I should be happy he wants to spend the holidays with me, but my aversion to the season overwhelms everything.
Because, now that I am divorced, and my parents have passed, I hate the holidays.
I am not alone. People dread the holidays for many reasons.
A 2016 Consumer Reports survey asked why people dread the holidays. They came up with multiple responses.
Most of the reasons had to deal with crowds, long lines, and aggressive driving (over 50 percent each). Other reasons included gaining weight (33 percent), getting into debt (29 percent), and seasonal music (21 percent). There are also people who dread the holidays because they have to be nice (13 percent), and they get disappointing gifts (12 percent). (I think the last two responses may be related.)
But, for the separated, divorced, and grieving, the holidays are a reminder of all we have lost. Once Halloween ends, the generic Christmas carol soundtracks that run the next day in stores carry the sounds of regret and sadness.
It is hard not to wallow during this season—to regret our relationship mistakes, or to miss the unconditional love of lost parents, spouses, siblings, or other loved ones.
In prior years, I didn’t effectively deal with my depressed holiday feelings, and I acted in harmful ways, which resulted in weight gain, a zero-dollars checking account balance, and fractured family memories.
This year, I have prepared a list of healthy tools to deal with the emotional effects of the holiday season:
1. Accept. Accept what has happened and whatever loss you have experienced. Live in the moment, and forget the past—preferably without the help of alcohol or prescription drugs.
2. Stop drinking, eating too much, or consuming excess sugar. The downward spiral that results from excess food and sugar consumption is worse than the sad feelings. Identify healthy ways to take care during this time: meditation, a hot bath, yoga, a massage, or reading a new book by a writer you love. These are all ways to healthily apply self-care.
3. Do something for someone else. There are many charitable opportunities during the holidays. Helping others has been shown to improve life satisfaction. Maybe make a donation to a local food bank to help needy families celebrate their holidays.
4. Be grateful. Think of something you are thankful for, breathe it in, and exhale everything else that gets in the way. Do this three times. Notice how you feel afterward. Repeat as necessary.
5. Make new traditions. Go away over Thanksgiving if you don’t have the kids or family obligations. Or, schedule a spa day—either at a spa or at your house. Declare a naked day, and stay naked with (or without) a robe all day. (Reminder: first close the shades.) Do something that was previously impossible with a houseful of kids and family.
6. Talk to your loved ones. At a recent low point, I hugged my teenage son and told him I was missing our old life. After first letting me know that he was chatting on Skype with his friends (and not to embarrass him by continuing to talk—ugh), he disconnected, picked up our small dog, and sat me down. We talked about our life since the divorce and the ways it’s been better. Especially since we can have a dog—which was previously impossible. It helped so much to express how I was feeling and to know he believed we were in a better place.
7. Find a way to express yourself creatively. Write about how you feel, paint, craft, or sing. Do whatever makes you happy. Maybe your creative contribution will make someone else feel better.
So, armed with this list, I broke down and bought my first Christmas gift. Next, I plan on negotiating the hours I will see my children on Christmas—although, I might need to meditate before and take a long hot bath after communicating with my ex.
If you are dreading the holidays, how might the tools above lighten your journey?
“Better to have loved and lost, than to live with that crazy person the rest of your life.” ~ An unknown wise person
Author: Donna Yates Kling
Image: Flickr/Ketzirah Lesser & Art Drauglis
Editor: Yoli Ramazzina
Copy Editor: Callie Rushton
Social Editor: Waylon Lewis