How to Cope when You’re Dreading the Holidays

You’re looking at the calendar and wishing you could just pull the covers over your head and sleep until January 1. How are you going to get through this holiday season? Maybe you’ve just gone through a divorce or the death of a loved one. Maybe your best friend moved away or your military spouse is on a tour of duty far away. Maybe it’s not even a big reason. Something is making you sad during the season when the world is telling you to be merry.

As a chaplain, I have walked many sad and lonely people through the holidays. Here are some tips I’ve discovered. Let them guide you through the holidays when your heart is not in it.

  • Don’t try to escape the holidays. Trying to pretend that they don’t exist is a poor coping mechanism. There are reminders everywhere! You can’t walk down the street or go into any store without being bombarded with twinkling lights and music and well-wishers shouting greetings. Acknowledge that this is a time of year you are going to have to live through.
  • Plan ahead. People who do the best think about what they will do and plan for it. Those who do the worst are the folks who deny. Bake a pie and invite a friend or neighbor over to share it. Accept at least one party invitation. Shop for a new sweater to wear. Hang a wreath on your door. Volunteer to work at a shelter or soup kitchen. Attend a holiday concert. Put a few things on your calendar that will keep you from falling into despair or self-pity-even if it feels false. Fake it.
  • Acknowledge that the holidays cannot be what they once were. If you are flooded with memories of Christmas Past when life was happy, well, be grateful for those pleasant memories and move on. You may not be able to replicate those old holiday traditions, but you can make new ones. Some of them might prove to be even better.
  • There is no one right way to celebrate. Forget “it should be this way” or “you ought to do it that way.” Nothing is written in stone. If you want to sip cider by the fireside with one close friend, why not? If you want to fly to Florida and lay on the beach, do it! Don’t let images in glossy magazines fool you into thinking that having a smiling intact family around a gorgeously festooned table laden with turkey and cranberries is the only option.
  • Realize that other people are hurting too. It’s easy to assume that everyone else is happy. Not so. If you scratch the surface there are plenty of folks with little to celebrate. You’re not alone. And if you know someone else in a sad predicament, why not invite them over? Not for a pity party, but just a celebration of life. A few kind words and another human being who cares can make a world of difference–for both of you.
  • Remember that growth is a by-product of change. Nothing stays the same. All our experiences, even the painful one, maybe even especially the painful ones, teach us about ourselves. On January 1, you hopefully can smile. You made it through the holiday season! Maybe you even had some moments of grace. You are stronger than you thought you were. You did it.

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