How to Cope With the Holidays When You Hurt

Every day is conquerable by its hours, and every hour by its minutes. ~Robert Brault

Most of us have been there – trying to deal with social expectations while suffering from emotional pain. It doesn’t matter whether you have experienced the death of a loved one, a divorce, the trauma of job loss, illness … or some other traumatic human condition – it’s difficult to cope. Suddenly, your world has tilted and nothing seems right, nothing feels comfortable. Yet Life still expects your participation.

The holiday season puts extra stress on hurting people. You want to withdraw, to sit in sorrow or self-pity; yet those around you want your presence. Family and friends seek to distract, or perhaps be a catalyst for healing. Meanwhile, you are cocooned within your thoughts and feelings. Let me suggest these five coping skills to make your transition through the holiday season less stressful.

  1. Release your expectations. Holidays are stressful for everyone. Financial issues, entertaining, family squabbles and too-full schedules push our normal lifestyle into overdrive. Tell yourself that you don’t have to buy the most fantastic presents, cook seven-course dinners or entertain all of your friends. By the same token, don’t expect that from others. Let the season unfold at a slower pace.
  2. Ask for help. Friends and family are usually eager to assist. They just don’t know what you want or need. Don’t be bashful or feel that you are imposing. At the same time, try to be flexible. If you want help with shopping or decorating, try to find a mutually convenient time. And try to match your needs with their strengths. Ask your favorite baker to help with cookies, Get your crafty friend to assist with party planning and decorations.
  3. Allow down time. Most of us get overwhelmed with the flurry of activities that get crammed into December’s schedule. Accept invitations that you know you will enjoy, and say ‘no’ to the rest. You don’t need to make an appearance at every cocktail party or family event. Instead, take a nap. Get a massage. Collect a stack of books for a lazy evening at home. And get plenty of sleep. Physical exhaustion will limit your enjoyment.
  4. Honor loved ones’ memories. Do something to include those who are no longer with you. Donate to a favorite charity in their name or volunteer your time for a cause they supported. Create a photo album of favorite pictures and write a Memory Card for each one. (Use a 3×5 card and describe the people and activity. This is great to do with your grandkids and preserves your ‘story’ for future generations.) Light a candle in memory.
  5. Be flexible. You already know that life doesn’t go as scheduled. The roast burns. The house isn’t as perfect as you envisioned. Weather or illness interferes. Squabbles and family feuds create tension. Ask yourself, “Will it matter next Tuesday?” Use humor to smooth out the glitches. Share memories of other ‘disasters’ and laugh together over today’s inconveniences. Don’t sweat the small stuff; and remember: it’s all small stuff!

In addition to these suggestions, I’d like to add three more simple tips. Avoid isolation. Laugh. Move. Physical movement, whether dancing, walking or ‘real’ exercise is important to your well-being. So are laughter and human contact.

John Ciardi said, “The day will happen whether or not you get up.” Don’t deny yourself the joys of this wonderful season. By adapting these simple guidelines for your activities, remaining flexible and including some ‘me’ time, you will find that Christmas really is ‘the most wonderful time of the year’.

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