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November 26, 2021

The holiday season is almost upon us. As always, the holidays can be joyous or difficult, depending on what else is going on in our lives. We can usually count on them to be stressful in any case. Some of us believe the myth that everyone should be happy during the holidays, but we know that we have experienced at least a few seasons when everything seemed all right but still were less than perfect.

Our own expectations may be a problem. We may want the holidays to feel like they did when we were children. The magic, the wonder, friends and family coming and going, great smells, special music, gifts and wonderful food. As adults we are responsible for creating all that. What pressure!

We may look wistfully at couples and families, imagining that everyone on God’s earth is cozily gathered around a fireplace in a state of bliss, with no arguments, no one drinking too much or picking on each other. Everyone else in the world is happily and peacefully assembling toys and wrapping gifts, except us. Partners always agree on how the holiday should be celebrated, right?

We may also believe that we are the only person who is alone and let that get us into a funk. That kind of thinking can be very depressing and really spoil the season for us and our children.

Let’s decide, that despite the change, that this holiday season will not be awful just different. Our attitude about the season is what matters most and will color this coming time more than anything else. Our attitude is our decision. Period. We can choose to have a good holiday season, regardless of circumstances.

First, we need to be gentle and tolerant with ourselves. If we are in the first year following a breakup or divorce, we need to realize that we are experiencing periods of grief. Grief creates a haze that clouds the mind and makes it difficult to think or be creative under that haze. We need to know that our concentration and energy are not up to par and therefore, we need to take shortcuts this year. Not forever—just for now.

Use catalogs to shop. Shop online. This saves time, energy and running around. If money is tight, set a budget and try not to go over it. Keep a list of everything you buy so you know that you’ve taken care of a particular person. Keep that list with you, in your phone.

If you venture into stores, remember that shopping at certain times is better than others. Dinner time—around 6 p.m. when the restaurants are full—the retail stores are not. Have a list with you so you can focus on what you need. Hone in and go right for that key item, avoiding distractions.

If you get pleasure from making gifts or baking, by all means do so, but if you’re short on time and concentration, forget it this year. Keeping it simple is the main idea here. Do it only if it feels therapeutic.

About the holiday spirit…would your family and friends prefer you to be happy, pleasant and present with them and have simple gifts or have the biggest and most perfect gift but you’re in crazy mode or feeling resentful because you’re unappreciated?

Try not to do anything—travel, buy gifts or go to certain parties where you will be uncomfortable—because that is not in your best interest this year. Set realistic expectations with children and family members in advance. People, even kids, do better when things are explained up front. It avoids having bubbles burst on the big day. If you wind up being able to do more than you thought, everyone gets a pleasant surprise.

Be proactive! Don’t wait to be invited—make plans. Invite people to your house, meet people for coffee or an outing. Don’t isolate yourself. Isolation leads to depression. Mutual support revives faith in human beings. You don’t have to spend a lot of money if that’s a problem. Remember, simplicity is the key. Have a tree decorating party. Host a dinner where everyone brings something.

Start new traditions. There may be something you have wanted to do but your partner didn’t like the idea. Now is the time to do it! Kids love to be creative—ask them for new ideas.

Volunteer time—there are never enough volunteers to go around. Work in a soup kitchen on a holiday. Collect blankets and coats and take them to the Salvation Army. Have the kids help—friends too. Visit in a nursing home or hospital. Bring toys to collection agencies or pet supplies to animal shelters. Visit those who are alone if everyone is vaccinated. Helping those less fortunate helps us count our blessings and it feels really good.

Spirituality, or a connection to a Power greater than ourselves, is a great help when we feel alone. We are all spiritual beings as part of our humanness. Some of us may not yet be aware of a Higher Power, and others may have lost touch with that part of ourselves that’s connected to what’s outside the limitations of our physical bodies, but it doesn’t take a lot to open to it. A little willingness is all that’s required. As soon as we ask for connection, we will see evidence of it.

The evidence we see may not take the form we expect, so we need to stay alert. We may get a phone call at the right time or see something in a magazine or on TV that answers a question for us. He sends us to each other, so you may run into a friend or a helpful person. Some of us may call this a coincidence, but those of us with practice, know that a coincidence is a gift of grace.

Join a house of worship and allow yourself to become part of the fellowship. Don’t discount all the positive aspects of community. Community is a good antidote when we feel alone. Again, we suggest working past isolation.

During parties or family dinners, let people know you may have to take a walk or a break if you become overwhelmed. You may have to leave early, but that it’s not an affront to the host. Again, advising folks in advance helps people understand.

Treat yourself well. Be sure you eat properly—nutrition important. Get enough sleep. Rest when you’re tired. Take a nice warm soak in the tub, have a massage, take a yoga class, take a walk. Whatever that may be that allows you to feel nurtured. Let people know you’d like a hug. A simple hug feels very good when you’re touch-deprived.

All in all, it’s our attitude that sets the tone. We choose our attitudes, actions, reactions. If we choose to make the holiday joyful, despite the new situation and circumstances, we will be happier and so will the people around us.


– Micki McWade, LMSW

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