Are the upcoming holidays stirring up anxiety? I never really understood seasonal depression until I got a divorce. As a kid, I used to get so excited about the holidays. I couldn’t wait to see all the decorations in the stores, listen to holiday music, and to be able to get together with all our family and friends to celebrate.
It was not until my divorce that all of that changed.
The holidays can stir up lots of anxiety for divorced moms, and the anticipation can kick in months before the holidays approach. I remember the first holiday season after my divorce. I just wanted to hibernate until spring. “Wake me up when this is all over.” I felt like a stranger in my own home. Joy felt like an emotion that was so distant. I was surviving, enduring the season with a forced smile on my face.
I hated having to split time with the kids for the holidays. That meant some holidays I had to go without seeing them. I felt like a failed mother, the shame of showing up to holiday events without them, having to tell people, “It’s not my year. They are with their dad.” It took years before I healed myself from thinking I was a bad mother.
In the early years after my divorce, I didn’t have the language or the awareness to articulate my feelings. I was going through the motions. It took lots of time, and several counselors and coaches to develop the language for what I was experiencing and so that I could step into a place where fear wasn’t the driving force.
Fear in divorce is a silent killer. Fear tells you that you are a terrible parent, you are losing your children, your family is broken, people are judging you and criticizing you, you will never be happy, and you are unworthy of love and belonging.
I didn’t realize how much I needed my kids to make me feel worthy as a mother. I needed them to make me feel safe. I needed them to defend me, love me, and to know that they had my back. I needed them to choose me. What I couldn’t understand at the time was that none of that was their job. I had to realize that only I had that power to make me feel all of those things.
The holidays are approaching, and I want you to be ready to armor yourself with these ten tips that will help you get through this holiday season with CHEER and not FEAR.
- Accept that change is uncomfortable as all hell!
Let’s be honest; nobody likes change. As humans, we are creatures of habit, and we love predictability, but there is nothing predictable when it comes to divorce. Divorce knocks you right out of your comfort zone.
After my divorce, I got to a point where I had to decide: either I was going to be a victim of my divorce and stay paralyzed, or I was going to use divorce as an opportunity to heal and grow.
I chose to heal and grow, even when that meant I had to be willing to let go:
- Let go of needing to control.
- Let go of fear.
- Let go of the belief that things “should” be a certain way.
- Let go of needing my kids to make me happy.
- Don’t feel like you need to explain or defend yourself.
It’s incredible who will come out of the woodwork once people catch wind of your divorce. Friends you haven’t spoken to in years, relatives you may only see at weddings and funerals, a friend of your ex’s who wants to know your side of the story.
My family is Italian, and I like to say my divorce hit the Italian newspaper’s front page. “You’re not going to believe who got a divorce?!” People love a good story. Do you know why? Because if you are on the front page of the newspaper, their family drama won’t be.
Having to defend yourself or explain yourself is only giving your power away. It’s saying to the universe that you have to work for love and approval. The truth is everyone already has their own opinion about your divorce, and that opinion is based on their own internal beliefs. So no matter what you say, they already have thoughts about it. Save your energy for what matters, you and your children.
- Start creating new traditions for you and your children.
You may have had traditions with your ex that you all did as a family, but remember change is part of life, so get creative with it.
Traditions that stick take time and effort on your part, so be patient and don’t give up. Since my divorce, my children and I have started a tradition of Christmas morning breakfast in our pj’s and foosball. We’ve done this for almost a decade now. No matter what we had going on later in the day, it didn’t matter because I could have quality time with them before we let the rest of the world in.
Think out of the box and write down some ideas for new traditions that you can get excited about. Don’t get stuck on the idea that these traditions have to be on the actual holiday. Lots of people now celebrate “Friendsgiving,” which is not on Thanksgiving Day.
- Have a holiday plan in advance.
Most of our anxiety comes from fear of the unknown or fear of things that never actually happen. We love creating drama in our head about the future. Most of the time, the drama we envision never comes to fruition.
All that wasted energy for nothing!
This year try having a plan for how you would like to celebrate the holidays. You can have a plan with your kids and a plan when you don’t have your kids.
Holidays don’t always have to be celebrated with family. After my divorce, there was a time where the last people I wanted to celebrate any holiday with were my family. They were not supportive of my divorce, nor were they respecting my boundaries. I had to make the tough decision to detach from them for some time, long enough for them to understand that if they wanted to be in my life, they would have to respect my boundaries.
If you are dreading the thought of being with specific family or friends for the holidays, you may want to consider if you wish to put yourself in that situation. Unfortunately, there are toxic people that many of us have to deal with at one point or another, but you get to decide as to whether you want to be around them.
- Do something nice for someone else.
Contribution is a great way to take the focus off you and give back to others in need. It allows us to take our mind off ourselves and to be grateful for what we do have. Other people would love to trade places with you in a heartbeat. Your situation is never as bad as you let yourself believe it to be. The mind has a way of playing tricks on us, but when we are contributing to others, we are allowing ourselves to get out of our heads and into our hearts.
There are many ways to contribute, and you don’t need to break the bank when doing it. Here is an excellent article by USA Today, “13 Ways to Give to Charity Without Breaking Your Budget,” to get ideas for how you may help. https://www.usatoday.com/story/money/personalfinance/budget-and-spending/2017/10/27/13-ways-give-charity-without-breaking-your-budget/792720001/.
- Connection is the antidote to not feeling alone.
In my opinion, connection is vital if you want to heal from divorce. You can read all about my thoughts on this here: https://marisalupocoaching.com/2020/10/26/if-you-want-to-heal-you-need-to-connect/.
It’s normal after a divorce to be in a place I call “Divorce Purgatory.” It’s that place after divorce where you feel so utterly alone, and you just want to feel “normal” again. When you are in that place, it is difficult to feel connected to other people, making the holidays feel like a nightmare waiting to happen.
What we don’t realize is that we need people. We are human, and we were designed to thrive in community. We weren’t meant to do life alone in our cave.
Find your people, and if you don’t know any physically, then reach out to the digital world. Who are some people you can listen to every day that can motivate you and fill you up so that you will feel like you can do anything this holiday season?
- MOVE YOUR BODY!
This sounds so basic and cliche, doesn’t it? I am not talking exercise here, even though most of us were made to believe that exercise is the answer to everything. What I mean is moving your body intending to change your physical state.
In their book “Burnout, The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle,” Emily and Amelia Nagoski explains how the reason we feel burnout is because our body doesn’t complete the stress cycle, so those emotions get locked into our body. If you haven’t read their book, please do!
That means that many of us are walking around with all of this stress locked in our bodies. We don’t do what we need to do to release it, which is why we experience burnout. One of the tools they recommend to get rid of the stress is to “do anything that moves your body enough to get you breathing deeply,” and you should do this daily between 20 and 60 minutes.
- Let go of the need to be in control.
Surrender and letting go is the hardest lesson of all in divorce. I can attest to this. But let me give it to you straight for a minute, if you are continually saying your ex is so controlling, I want you to take a good look in the mirror and ask yourself if you are too? You might want to reach through the computer and slap me right now, but sometimes I need to give you the reality check you may need to hear.
To be clear, I am not saying your ex or individual family members or friends aren’t controlling by nature. They might be. But you get to decide how you react to their behavior. Most of the time, with difficult people, we tend to want to fight and defend, and the only reason you would do that is that you feel powerless. Understand that there is more power in staying calm and nonreactive.
- Practice a mindset meditation that makes you feel calm.
This holiday season, you are going to be cool as a cucumber. Nothing is going to take your power away. If you start to feel the anxiety coming on, I want you to see yourself in the middle of the ocean sitting on your surfboard, just watching the magnificent sunset, feeling the ocean breeze caress your face, and at that moment, there isn’t a care in the world. If you are not an ocean person, then visualize yourself in your happy place. You can access this place anytime you want.
Let’s say you are at a family event, and things are feeling a little uncomfortable; BOOM, you get on that surfboard and visualize yourself in your happy place!
- Stop taking score.
Ugh, taking score! What I mean by taking score is tit for tat, or keeping mental checks in your head when you feel you’ve been done dirty or you have been disrespected. For example, your ex brings the kids 1 hour late for your holiday exchange, you lose your crap and then do the same right back to him.
This sort of thinking is too rigid, and it puts the kids in the middle of a war. You have to know when to pick your battles, and some things aren’t worth your energy. You are mom and will forever be mom, and time will never define that. Your children will remember how you make them feel, and they certainly don’t want to be used as bait when it comes to keeping score.
If you want something to die, you need to stop breathing life into it. The focus should be on being present and cherishing every moment with your children, not only the holidays. The holiday season comes and goes, but you are forever their mom, and the only thing your children want is for you to be happy.