How to Survive the Holidays in the Midst of Heartbreak

How would you like to know how to survive the holidays this year? Especially if you are in the midst of heartbreak right now?

  As we enter the holiday season, I know that many of you may be feeling residual pain from a breakup. Maybe it just happened, and you feel like you are drowning in an ocean of agony. You may be dreading this season because it will be the first time you will have to endure it without your partner. Or you may be secretly holding on to the fact that your partner left you for another woman and don’t want anyone to know. Or maybe you’ve been divorced from your husband for several years but have not really gotten over him, so consequently every holiday season you brace yourself for that familiar cycle of angst and depression. Many of you are immersed in a feeling of sadness and loss which can be overwhelming.

  Well, I know how you feel because I was there and remember the sick feeling in my stomach of shame and guilt that started just before Thanksgiving and didn’t let up until weeks after New Year’s. Author Susan J Noonan MD, writes that “You may tend to take on an overload of responsibilities and then feel guilty if you cannot live up to that self-imposed standard.  Or when depressed, you may not feel like doing any of it and feel guilty later for ignoring your loved ones.”  

So, I want to give you an early Christmas gift! Heck, why not give yourself an early Christmas gift?

  I want to offer you something to get you through the holidays feeling a little more empowered so you can hold your head high as you attend those festive gatherings with friends and family. There are several actions you can take that can move you toward self-fulfillment and I want to share them with you. 

  I am going to outline 3 things you can do NOW to prepare yourself for holidays and 3 things you can take with you throughout the season and into the next year which will help you stave off depression and anxiety. These 6 things may or may not be so obvious to some people but because of where you are in your healing process, they are going to be much more meaningful.

Past, present, future. Your past is haunting your present and your future sucks if you stay on the same track. There is a multitude of reasons why you are in your present emotional state but only you can make the decision to try to get past it. Here are a few things you can do now to help make yourself feel better during the holiday season.  

  • Ditch all your holiday expectations: You know what this time of year brings with all the party invites, family gatherings, and present buying. You also know that even if you were in a good emotional place, balancing all those plates and taking control of your personal health is still a struggle. Being tugged in every direction and not being fully committed to them is not in your best interest.
    • Take the time to prioritize the events you really want to attend. This way you can actively prepare for each one. You may also find some events conflict with each other, which provides you with an easy way to bow out of the one you really do not want to attend.
    • Attend the family gatherings but give yourself a time limit. If you know the atmosphere is not going to help you move positively through this holiday, then make sure your host knows you only intend to say for a specified amount of time before you arrive.
    • Gift gifts that matter. If shopping for everyone adds to your anxiety, do something different. Maybe make a large donation to your favorite charity or cause and let your family and friends know it was done in their names. This will take some of the heat off you and should make you and your loved ones feel really good.
  • Say no: When you say no to some things you are saying yes to yourself. This may be a really hard thing to do but this holiday more than ever you need to focus on you. This aligns with the expectations we talked about earlier in that you don’t want to do things that are going to trigger you negatively, you want to do things that are going to lift you up. Saying no to people is going to be the hardest, so my suggestions are to practice on a friend that you trust. Let them know this is an area that you struggle in and work on it together.
  • Plan ahead: You have a good start on how to handle the holiday expectations and are working on saying no, now you can plan your time better. Plan a pamper yourself for a day or two or three. You’ve got 5 ½ weeks to calendar this out! Go for it! Do something that you have always wanted to do during the holidays but never could because of all the hustle and bustle.  Also, how about giving yourself permission to have a freak out day. In fact, you can actually plan it. Make it a Saturday evening or Tuesday afternoon, whatever works for you.

Ok, so those are some somewhat easy things to do right now to deal with the holidays, but now let’s look at some things that are going to help you long term.  

  • Accept your imperfectness: This is a real state of being that we all stand in but really don’t want to acknowledge. Kind of like stepping in poo and walking around with it on your shoe all day and not knowing where the smell is coming from. Taking that stink into the holiday season will not bring joy and cheer to all you meet. So, I know accepting your imperfectness is not as easy as just wiping poo off your shoe, but there are ways you can start to clean up your view of your imperfections. This is an exercise I use with my clients, and with consistency and time, it does work. I want you to make 3 lists and when you are done you are going to place them in prominent places where you can review them daily.
    • List your strengths as a human being
    • List all the accomplishments that you are proud of (you may need reminding from family and friends)
    • List the talents that you have, even the ones you tend to keep to yourself and don’t share with others.

  • Forgive yourself: Knowing that you are not perfect leads to forgiving yourself. Many of you have used your imperfections to hold on to the anger, shame, guilt, and fear of your trauma. Yes, you may even be aware of it, but this is keeping you from the joy in your life. You are not the sum of your past mistakes nor the reason for the behavior of the man who betrayed you no matter how imperfect you think you are.

Give yourself a break and forgive yourself, every day if you have to. Put some sticky notes around your house that have this phrase written on them, “I forgive me”. You will find that there are going to be moments when you are feeling unlovable and when you look up to see that sticky note you’re going to instantly feel better.

  • Invest in you: As you can see there is an overall theme here and that is to turn your focus on you. And as I mentioned at the beginning of this conversation your emotional state is fragile and this time of year can put you over the edge if you let it. Investing in you can mean different things to different people. The mark of a good investment is that it pays for itself over time, and then, far exceeds your initial contribution.

So, what would that look like you ask? Think about what you want your life to look like in 5 years. What investment would you make in yourself to get there? For example, I wanted to be able to help women who have been betrayed by their spouses but only had my experience to draw on. Because I wanted to provide the highest quality resource for these hurting women, I invested 2 more years into another master’s degree in Psychology to make it happen.

When I advise women who are still licking their wounds from their betrayal, most of them really want to see themselves happy, healthy, and functioning again 5 years from now and can look back with a sense of accomplishment because they worked with someone like me to help get them there. You have to decide that you care enough about yourself to invest in who you want your future self to be. Because 5 years will go by fast and who you are now, I don’t think you want to still be. So, invest in yourself.

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