Celebrating Your Way: Getting Through the Holidays When Life Is Hard

holiday stressWhen life is hard? Yes, certain aspects of life are always hard. But the season for togetherness and celebration often adds an extra layer of stress and struggle for people dealing with personal challenges. That stress can come from the after-effects of a divorce, the sadness following a loved one’s death, a chronic illness, or coping with PTSD.

People change, relationships change, and as a result…families change. Homes change, our daily routines change, and holidays change. When we hold too tight to the past and when we refuse to make new traditions, we miss out on the beauty of what is the present and the hope of what might be the future.

If you or someone you love is struggling a bit this year, here are a few tips that might help getting through the holidays easier, and even potentially lead to creating a good memory or two.

  1. Make a game plan.  If you know that a family gathering is going to be in a crowded location, or there will be alcohol at a friend’s Ugly Sweater party, think through how you’ll handle it ahead of time.  If you need to, write down a few of your best coping strategies and keep them in your pocket.  If you start feeling anxious, excuse yourself to a private area and review your notes.
  2. Use the buddy system.  Tell a trusted friend or family member that you may need their support when you’re going to be somewhere that could potentially be a stressful or sensitive situation.  If you know a celebration will include children, but you’ve recently gone through a bitter custody dispute, for example, having a friend close by to talk to in you start to feel emotionally overwhelmed can help.
  3. Maximize the good.  When you’re feeling good, take note of it.  Practice deep breathing and relaxation during these times – they can turn into coping mechanisms during situations when you feel yourself getting anxious.
  4. If you have a spiritual side, nurture it.  During the holidays, people tend to refocus on their beliefs and spirituality. Visiting your place of worship can be a profound way of connecting with others, celebrating the holiday in a personal manner, and can be a healthy way of managing emotions that can otherwise leave you feeling vulnerable.
  5. Be flexible.  Most families have long-standing ways of celebrating the holidays – everything from the way they decorate the tree to what they eat and where they spend their time.  When your own sadness or stress enters the picture, recognize it as a time to show some patience and understanding. Talk with each other and focus on creating a holiday that everyone can enjoy.  For example, if large crowds and noise are a too much, maybe instead of blasting holiday music while you and your 26 cousins bake cookies and decorate the house, this year you donate some time at a homeless shelter.
  6. Have a safe word and an exit strategy.  Come up with a ready-made reason for leaving a party/situation early, and have a safe word that indicates it’s time to leave.
  7. Give alcohol a time out.  For many with PTSD, drinking alcohol can make symptoms worse. Turning to alcohol to get through 11 parties can quickly turn into a bad habit once the parties are over. If you’re hosting, limit the availability of alcohol. If you’re out somewhere, stick to the rum-free eggnog.

These are just a handful of strategies that may help you and your loved one enjoy the holiday season.  Although it can be a challenge, life changes, illness, or PTSD do not have to put a damper on the holiday spirit. What are some ways that you or your loved ones have approached the holidays that made them less stressful for everyone?


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