Tips to Making it after a Major Life Event
It’s the most wonderful time of the year…until a major life even strikes, and it becomes the worst time of the year. What used to be celebrations that you looked forward to often times becomes the black cloud looming ahead that you can’t run from. At times, all you really want to do is get in bed, put the covers over your head, and wait there until New Years is over. I’ve been there, and I’m here to tell you there is a way to survive the weeks surrounding the holidays. It won’t necessarily be easy, but surviving the holidays is possible, and you can even find yourself enjoying moments that you didn’t think you ever could.
I’ve heard it said many times that the “year of firsts” after a major life event is the toughest, and I would have to agree with this theory. The year my husband and I separated was the most difficult Christmas I’ve ever spent…followed closely by that next Christmas when we were divorced, and I didn’t have my son with me for the holidays. So, how do you survive the holidays and come out stronger on the other end? You take it one…day…at…a…time (and give yourself a lot of grace in the process).
7 Tips for Surviving the Holidays
What’s a major life event?
So, what do I mean by life event? A major life event is something that occurs that creates a major change in your life. It could be something like a death, a divorce, a relationship issue, or a major illness. Basically, it’s anything that rocks your world and changes the way your life functions on a day to day basis. Not all major life events are negative, but surviving the holidays is often times associated with one of the above.
Tip 1: Plan for it!
As the holidays approach, you have to anticipate that it may be difficult. The best way to attack it is to plan for it. If you don’t plan, you’ll be taken off guard, and you’ll find yourself face down in the Christmas fudge! Knowing that I would be without my son the first Christmas after my divorce, I called my best friend from elementary school and asked if she wanted a visitor for a few days before Christmas. It was just what I needed! Not only did it shorten the amount of time that I would be sitting at home by myself thinking about how much I missed him, but it also gave me something to look forward to. It was the best four days I could have spent catching up with her and laughing about memories from when we were both young. Plan for those holiday parties you’ve always gone to and now want to avoid. Plan for the Christmas Eve service you may have to sit through without your loved one who was there last year. You may not be able to avoid the situation, but plan for a way to lighten the stress and work around the impact of it.
Tip 2: Create your own, new traditions
One of the more challenging parts in surviving the holidays is facing those traditions you have always done in your holiday celebrations. When you just can’t seem to bring yourself to that activity that used to bring you so much joy, consider creating a new tradition for your family. Instead of going to look at Christmas lights like you used to do, decide to stay at home and bake Christmas cookies for your neighbors. Then, make that something you do every year as a family.
Some things you won’t be able to change. And, in reality, you may not want to change them. In those cases, incorporate them into your celebrations in a different way. For traditions that you used to do as a small family, can you invite friends to do them with you now?
Tip 3: Find someone you can confide in who understands
Not everyone is going to understand your difficulties during the holidays. Unfortunately, you’re going to have some people who think you should just “get over it and be happy.” You can’t let yourself get upset by these people. They just don’t know what it’s like being where you are. Instead, find someone who has walked in your shoes and knows what you are going through. That first Christmas after my divorce, my older sister who had also gone through a divorce was vital in helping me navigate my way through it. She listened, let me cry, and also encouraged me that it wouldn’t feel like this forever. When I just wanted to go to bed early Christmas night and make the day pass, she checked on me and then let me have my time. She didn’t force me to go sit with the family and play jolly. She also used some tough love at times. Find “your person” and then be “that person” to someone else who needs it down the road.
Tip 4: You might have to “bite the bullet”
There may be some things you can’t change or avoid. You may just have to work through it. If you have kids, you won’t want to change everything about the holidays. Remember, they are probably experiencing change, too, and consistency makes them feel stable. So, there are some things you may just have to grin and bear for the good of your kids. There may be some things you have to do that first holiday that just needs to be done in order to make future holidays easier. I got married at the beginning of December (in hindsight…poor choice!). What that meant is that a lot of the Christmas decorations I had involved our wedding date or Christmas ornaments of a bride and groom. That first Christmas after my divorce, I just had to do it…I had to make myself go through all of the Christmas decorations and throw out anything that reminded me of my December wedding. While it was tough at the time, I now don’t have to work through that. When I open up my Christmas decorations now, all I have in there is what is now relevant to my current Christmas celebrations and what my son and I have created for our home. I look into those Christmas boxes now with joy and excitement about the new memories I am making in my home.
Tip 5: It’s okay to avoid…for a time being
There will be people who tell you that you can’t avoid the holidays, and they are right. But, you don’t have to face everything that first holiday. Part of surviving the holidays is knowing what you can handle and what you can’t. It may be that this first holiday you need to avoid some things. If you need to travel for the actual holiday to get your mind off of it, that’s ok. Realize that you won’t always be able to avoid it, and avoiding it doesn’t make it go away. But, its ok to allow yourself some relief in this first year until you are emotionally stronger and able to hold up better to the challenges the season brings.
Tip 6: Take time for yourself
In trying to keep your mind off of your grief, it’s very easy to overschedule yourself during the holidays. What ends up happening is that you feel overwhelmed, stressed, and more depressed than if you would have taken some time to breathe and focus on what you need. Take some time to give yourself a gift. It may be the gift of time, or the brown boots you just love, or the pedicure you desperately need but haven’t been able to get. Make some time for you somewhere in there while you’re making time for others!
Tip 7: Keep in mind…the holidays won’t last forever, and you will survive!
The biggest thing to remember is that you will survive the holidays! Although it seems like it lasts forever, it’s really only a blip in time, and then you’re through them. The first one will be the most difficult. I remember that first year mentally checking off each of the “firsts” and then patting myself on the back for making it through each of them. I remember telling myself, “Well, the hardest one is over”as I made my way through the year. I was right. Those firsts were the hardest! But, I made it through them. And, you know what? You can do it, too!
A Final Thought on Surviving the Holidays
I don’t want to leave you with unrealistic expectations of those second, third, fourth holidays. I think for a while the holidays will feel different. It’s going to take time (yep…there’s that dreaded word that I hate) to work through all of the triggers that occur when the holidays come around. You’re not going to avoid the Christmas carols being played over the sound system at the grocery store or the advertisement for the Hallmark Christmas movies. So, be prepared. When the triggers happen, just remind yourself that they are just triggers. They don’t have to dictate your emotions, and you can re-frame them. Most importantly, it won’t happen overnight, and you have to give yourself grace to work through it.
Fun Ideas for New Holiday Activities for Surviving the Holidays
- Divide your family in groups and set a dollar amount they can spend on a “family gift.” Go to the mall and give each group 1 hour to come up with the best gift that fits within that dollar amount. (You can even go to the dollar store and let their imaginations let loose!) Let each family member vote on the best family gift. You can even give awards for most frugal, most creative, most thoughtful, etc.
- Don’t stress about the gifts you’re giving (or not able to give) your kids. Instead, volunteer with them somewhere to show them how good it feels to give to others. You’ll be amazed at how much it lifts your spirits and gives you a way to focus on the needs of others.
- Select a fun holiday movie, pop some popcorn, and have a movie night with the kids.
- Wrap 23 Christmas books and put them under the tree. Let the kids unwrap one book each night leading up to Christmas Eve that you read to them. Finish off Christmas Eve by reading the Christmas Story.
- Make a variety of Christmas Cookies and invite your neighbors to take home a tin of their favorite.
- Bake a birthday cake for Jesus.
- Buy a box of each of your kids’ favorite treats along with a few fun items at the dollar store. If it’s in your budget, get a “bigger item” like a $10.00 gift card to a fast food restaurant. Layer these in a ball of saran wrap until you have one large ball (with the larger gift being at the very center of the ball). When you play the game, each member of the family will have 1 minute to unwrap the Saran Wrap (with gloves on). Whatever falls out during their turn, they get to keep. The individual who makes it to the end of the ball gets the big gift!
- Check out your local Chamber of Commerce to see what activities are in your area.
- Go to the mall and do a photo scavenger hunt with the kids. You won’t have to spend any money, and you’ll have a whole lot of fun!!! Sign up for a free photo scavenger hunt checklist for fun with the entire family!
Do you have a favorite holiday activity you do with your family? Share your ideas with others below!