The holidays are typically a time of joy and merriment. We are told to cherish loved ones and bask in the “togetherness” of this magical time of year. Advertisements and movies often show families sledding in a snowy scene or gathered around a fire drinking hot cocoa. But not all families will feel such warmth and cheer this year. With the divorce rate at about 40-50%, the concept of “togetherness” can seem near impossible. Divorce, in general, is scary and for those approaching their first holiday season after a separation, those fears are only enhanced. Even though anxieties may run high, it is still possible for families in this circumstance to still have a happy holiday. Here are five tips to help you survive your first holiday after divorce.

Tip # 1 – Surround Yourself with the Love of Others

 The cold already tempts us to want to hibernate, but separation can make that temptation seem even sweeter. It’s natural to want some alone time, especially after a difficult split, however sometimes that isolation can cause more harm than good. Make an effort to spend time with supportive friends and family, as their love will help lessen the impact of the negative emotions you may be feeling. Be honest with them and let them in on any fears or anxiety you are facing. Don’t be afraid of vulnerability and open yourself up to the possibility of fun as a single person again.

If kids are involved, you will have to face the potential reality of not seeing them for each and every holiday.  Most custody schedules are faired in a way that allows parents to rotate holiday custody. When the kids are with your ex, make sure to have something planned while they are away. It may be suitable to use an hour of that time for self-care, however, don’t let depressive or painful thoughts keep you locked away entirely. So get out of the house. Get coffee with a friend. Look into a divorce support group near you. Even try volunteering. You may feel the world is against you right now, but when you focus on helping those less fortunate you may start to appreciate what you do have even more.

Tip # 2 – Make New Traditions and Let Happiness Happen

Divorce and change go hand in hand. So many things about your life have and will continue to change, but not all those changes are necessarily bad. Traditions are a part of everyone’s holiday – most of which create a sense of sentimentality. Families going through the process of separation may find that some old traditions need to be adjusted (depending on your relationship with your ex) or let go of entirely. In all honesty, it will be sad and maybe even a bit upsetting to let some of these memories go, however you now have an opportunity to create new (and perhaps better!) ones instead. Try your best to not get caught up in the past and stay focused on the present and future. Perhaps instead of the annual couples ski trip, you used to take with your ex, take a girls/guys weekend instead. If you have kids, have a brainstorming session with them to see all the things they want to include in your new family holiday dynamic. Be creative and don’t be afraid to do the things you’ve always wanted to do.

But most importantly during this difficult time, I want to remind you that it is okay to feel happy. Divorce is upsetting and painful. There’s no hiding that fact. Right now you may feel broken and nowhere near fine. And that is okay. It may seem strange to feel anything but sadness and anger right now. But if you find yourself laughing and enjoying yourself at times during the holidays this year, allow yourself to feel those feelings of merriment and joy! You deserve happiness as much as everyone else deserves happiness this time of year.

Tip # 3 – Be Patient and Flexible

The holidays are already a crazy and hectic time of year. If you’re now faced with celebrating the holidays on your own, it may feel more overwhelming than ever. On top of the normal holiday responsibilities, you now have to deal with your emotions, the potential emotions of your children, new scheduling and tasks, and whatever else the holiday wants to throw at you. You are not a perfect, superhero specimen of a human. Be patient with not only yourself, but your kids, family, and friends as well. This is new territory for everyone; a bumpy and unfamiliar terrain that you’re going to have to navigate together. A little patience and flexibility will go a long way in making this first holiday after divorce much more enjoyable than you ever thought possible.

Tip # 4 – Count Your Blessings and Cultivate Gratitude

While it may seem like you’re losing out on so much this holiday season, now is a better time than ever to adopt a new attitude of gratitude. Gratitude can genuinely change how you see the world and is an extremely important coping skill in any time of hardship. Do your best to toss the negativity and find everything you’re now gaining this holiday season. Maybe now you don’t have to listen to your ex’s Uncle’s political rants. Or perhaps now you’ll never have to hear your former mother-in-law criticize your baking skills again.

Try to remember what you love most about the holiday season and focus on that. Maybe it’s the weather, the decorations, or the spirit of giving. Whatever it is, do whatever you can to get the most out of those things. Also, do the things that put you in the holiday spirit. Go ice skating, snow tubing, caroling, or visit intricate light displays. Volunteer to wrap presents or sign up for a new responsibility for the office Christmas party. By immersing yourself in these activities and focusing on the things you love, you’ll find more time for the love and joy you deserve and less time to sit with unpleasant thoughts.

Tip #5 – Stay Healthy

As stated in the last few blogs, self-care is extremely important, not just with divorce, but with any issue you may face. This time of year is synonymous with colds and the flu. Normal holiday stress combined with divorce stress will only make you more susceptible to catching a bug.  Do all you can to prevent yourself from getting sick – get your rest, take appropriate medication and supplements, eat properly, exercise adequately, and stay away from mood changes such as alcohol and drugs. Use skills such as meditation, journaling, and breathing to bring some calm and peace back into your life.

If you have kids, have them follow in your footsteps. Be a role model and show them they can overcome any obstacle life may throw at them. Keep them on a regular schedule – including meals, homework, and sleep. While having structure is great, cut yourself some slack and try to mix some fun into your regular familial schedules. Take some extra time to do the things you enjoy doing together. Taking a break from the ordinary and having some spontaneous fun will improve both your and your kids’ emotional health.

Need help this time of the year?

 And while you may be doing your best to cope, remember there is no shame in seeking more help. At Cristina Panaccione and Associates we have two locations in the South Hills of Pittsburgh to help you if you need us.  We are currently accepting a limited number of new patients. Check out our videos to learn more about how we can help you through this hectic holiday season.


* This information has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. Please contact a medical professional for advice.