Maybe you lost a beloved family member or dear friend this past year. Maybe you are just coming out of a difficult breakup or painful divorce. Maybe you lost your job, had a falling out with someone close to you, faced financial strain, or just had a really tough year.
Whatever the case, it’s your first anniversary since this hardship or loss, and you’re not sure how you are going to get through the upcoming holiday season. The holidays are supposed to be about hope and joy, but these sentiments may feel like the total opposite of what you are feeling right now. Hope and joy may feel intangible, or even distasteful to you.
And what about upcoming family gatherings? How are the old traditions going to feel given the transformation your life has taken recently? In some ways, you might feel that this year you’d do anything to avoid the holidays.
Why Holidays Can Be Triggering
There are so many expectations surrounding the holiday season. Virtually every movie, television show, commercial, and social media post paints a picture of the holidays as a glorious time of family togetherness, and there is supposed to be this magical feeling in the air throughout the season.
Even if you are not facing a hardship or loss, the pressure to experience a perfect holiday with your loved ones can feel crushing. And when the holidays don’t end up feeling as magical as societal expectations indicate they should, you can end up feeling depressed, anxious, and deeply disappointed.
Holidays are also jam-packed with traditions and memories, from childhood all the way up to the present day. You may feel concerned about what forgotten memories the holidays might unearth and how you will cope with these memories.
If you are experiencing your first holiday without a loved one, you may be wondering how your past traditions are going to hold up. The same is true if this is your first holiday after a break-up, divorce, or other hardship.
Will there be a way to experience holiday joy without your partner or loved one? Will the holidays be a bitter reminder of all you have recently lost? How will you move forward?
5 Ways To Cope
All of your feelings, worries, and fears about what the holiday season might look like now are valid and absolutely understandable. At the same time, hibernating until the holidays are over isn’t the best option. That doesn’t mean your holiday celebration needs to look like it used to, but running away isn’t going to make your feelings go away: it’s healthiest to face them in a gentle, affirming way.
Here are some ideas for how to cope:
1. Don’t force yourself to celebrate
During the holidays, the pace of life slows down. Businesses are closed and most people have time off work and school. You don’t necessarily have to use the holidays to celebrate if that doesn’t feel right to you. You can use this time to enjoy some peace and quiet, maybe spend some time observing your feelings. Grieve, too, if you need to. Do what feels right and doable.
2. Give yourself time to mourn — and to feel joy
Grief is a natural feeling for you right now, and you are allowed to feel that way, even during the holidays. You might find that your feelings of grief are magnified. Allow yourself to feel these feelings. But also know that it’s okay if you feel a little joy creeps in too. Let that joy in if it’s there. You are allowed to feel more than one thing at once, and you shouldn’t feel guilty about that.
3. Surround yourself with your people
The holidays are a time where you get to decide who you want to be with. If there is someone who you normally celebrate holidays with, who tends to bring you down or is just generally unsupportive, it’s okay to cancel plans or set boundaries. Choose the people in your life who really get you, will love you unconditionally, and will allow you to share the pain and grief you are experiencing.
4. Make way for new traditions
One of the most difficult things about your first holiday after a hardship or loss is that the traditions that once marked the holidays may not be possible or even desirable anymore. But while those old traditions had value, there is always room for new traditions, too. In fact, making new traditions this holiday season may feel like a breath of fresh air — a new beginning for you.
5. Make your mental health a priority
Your mental health matters, and when you are feeling vulnerable, you need to take extra steps to keep your mental health in check. That might mean paring down on holiday activities this year. It may mean leaving events early, or taking a brisk walk outside when you need some time to yourself. Meditation, journaling, and keeping in touch with a therapist are all things to prioritize right now.
This might be a really hard time for you and it can be easy to feel like the grief and sadness you are experiencing this holiday season is how the holidays will feel forever. That’s not the case. The rest of your life is ahead of you, and there will be many future holiday seasons that will be different than this one. This isn’t to minimize the heaviness you may be experiencing this year, but it’s important to keep things in perspective.
Take heart in the fact that you are not alone. While it may feel like you are the only one in pain this holiday season, there are so many people who are also struggling now, and have struggled before. Connecting with people who have been there before, or are even there now, can be incredibly healing as you wade through the holiday seasons, and begin to move forward.
Most of all, remember that the human spirit is resilient — more resilient than you’d imagine. You may not be able to see how you are going to get to the other side of the hurt you are experiencing now, and that’s okay. But you will — someday soon the holidays will be a time of hope and joy once more.