When You Don’t Feel Merry—A Post-Divorce Holiday Survival Guide

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If you’re newly divorced or going through a painful separation, you may find yourself dreading the holidays. The season can be overwhelming and full of emotional landmines. But you can get through it with a mindful approach, taking care of body and soul.

Here are 15 tips for surviving the holidays post-divorce from the experts and people who have been there.

Give yourself some grace… First and foremost, be gentle with yourself. There’s so much pressure for this to be “the most wonderful time of the year,” but you may not be feeling that way this time around, and that’s okay. The holidays can bring a fresh surge of grief, disappointment, anger, loneliness, regret, or painful nostalgia. Give yourself permission to feel your feelings. Call someone you trustbest friend, clergy member, therapist—when you need extra support.

…And some space. Be honest about your boundaries. If something is going to be too hard this year, it’s absolutely fine to say no or let it go. Don’t put pressure on yourself to carry on as usual and make the perfect holiday.

Don’t hole up. Especially when the days are short and the weather turns chilly, it’s tempting to stay in and wallow. But it’s important to get out of the house, even for short times.

Make a plan…and a backup. Fill your holiday calendar with things that boost your mood and help you relax. Schedule plans with friends and family well ahead of time, and have a pleasing Plan B in case something falls through. On the other hand, it’s okay to be on your own sometimes. Plan for that too. Spend your alone time doing positive things for yourself. See a movie, have a spa day, work on a hobby or fun project you’ve been putting off, or go on a retreat. In other words, keep busy with good things—but don’t create more stress by running yourself ragged.

Focus on your kids. Smooth the way for them to have a warm, familiar, bright holiday, and quality time with you, even in this difficult period. Do your best to avoid tension and disagreements with your ex; be cordial and cooperative for the children’s sake. Abide by your parenting plan.

Be flexible. Remember that what truly makes the holidays special is time spent with loved ones. Never mind what the calendar says—celebrate when you’re together.

Make new traditions. This is an opportunity to let go of the holiday rituals and obligations you never really enjoyed anyway, or to skip some things that make you too sad right now. Invent fresh ways to celebrate. If you have children, it’s important to maintain certain traditions for security and continuity, but getting the kids involved in creating special new rituals can help you establish and honor your family in its new form.

Stay off the socials. Theodore Roosevelt said, “comparison is the thief of joy.” This is nowhere more true than on social media, and never more poignant when you’re going through a painful time. Scrolling through pictures and videos of seemingly “perfect” families flaunting holiday joy is unlikely to boost your mood. And remember, social media is tightly curated and very skewed—nobody posts pictures of fights at the dinner table or children behaving badly. No family is perfect. Don’t compare your holiday to someone else’s staged version.

Go easy on the eggnog. Beware of drowning your sorrows in alcohol or drugs. Numbing your pain with substances will only exacerbate depression.

Move your body. Exercise lifts the spirit. According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), “Exercise improves mental health by reducing anxiety, depression, and negative mood and by improving self-esteem and cognitive function. Exercise has also been found to alleviate symptoms such as low self-esteem and social withdrawal.” Experiment with what works for you—try brisk walks, jogging, resistance training, or yoga.

Give yourself a change of scenery. If your familiar environs and their holiday trappings are getting you down or causing painful nostalgia, plan a refreshing getaway, even for a day. Get out in nature if you can.

Cultivate gratitude. It may sound trite (and impossible to do right now) but it’s true—counting your blessings is good for you. According to Harvard Health, “In positive psychology research, gratitude is strongly and consistently associated with greater happiness. Gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships.” Spend some time journaling things you’re thankful for.

Volunteer. Reaching out to help others can help shift your focus away from what you’re going through. Look for a community organization where you can volunteer to serve or deliver food, or visit the elderly and housebound. Research shows that people who volunteer report better mental health and grow happier over time. Not only does helping others give us a “warm glow,” the experience of volunteering promotes social connection and helps us feel less alone.

Welcome the New Year. The holidays are tough. But a powerfully symbolic fresh start is right around the corner—celebrate this as a true time of renewal.

Know that you’re not alone. In 2020 (the most recent data available from the CDC), there were 630,505 divorces in the U.S. As lonely as you feel right now, so many people are going through similar things. A divorce support group can be very helpful.

The skilled and compassionate attorneys at SFLG are experienced in all aspects of family law and can help you navigate the difficult dissolution process as smoothly as possible. At the holidays and always, we wish you peace.

by Debra Schoenberg

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