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The holiday season can bring up a great deal of stress and emotions without the effects of divorce weighing a person down. According to a poll taken by the APA (American Psychological Association) in 2008, 80% of Americans anticipate holiday stress. This is simply from the holidays alone, without the added stresses of a divorce thrown into the mix. Dr. Jeanne Segal, PhD, states that divorce can lead to great emotional turmoil that affects one’s home life, work life, and relationships with friends and family. Parents who are going through a divorce, or have recently divorced, may experience extra difficulty with emotions during the holiday season; finding it difficult to cope in front of the kids. This can be difficult for both parents and children to handle. Luckily there are a variety of ways to cope with holiday emotions during and after a divorce in a way that sets a positive example for the kids, and allows them to enjoy the holiday season despite recent changes in their family dynamics.
Start a Feelings Journal
A great way to help process the many emotions surrounding the holidays during or post-divorce is by first identifying them, then writing them down. A feelings journal is a great way to express and explore the emotions that come up during the holidays. If a person is having difficulty identifying the complex emotions that arise this time of year, a feelings list may be beneficial. In addition to helping identify, express, and process emotions, a feelings journal can help keep track of emotional progress, and changes in one’s feeling surrounding the divorce and holidays over time. Teaching kids by example that it’s good and healthy to write down and explore one’s feelings will help them to develop healthy coping skills they can take with them as they learn and grow through life into the teen and adult years.
Engage in Grounding and Relaxation Rituals
When tensions and emotions run high, it can help to take a pause from one’s daily routine to implement some grounding and relaxation rituals. Grounding and relaxation exercises can help clear the mind, and free us from the intensity of in-the-moment emotions in a way that calms the nerves, and allows one to evaluate things in a calmer manner, while staying in the moment. This can be accomplished in a variety of ways. Dr. Alice Boyles, PhD, recommends a combination of deep breathing exercises and meditation for clearing the mind, and relieving stress and anxiety. Other grounding techniques include engaging in exercise, a sport or hobby, painting or drawing, getting active in nature, indulging in self-care and pampering (such as a massage, or trip to a spa), and spending time with pets.
Take a Time-Out
The first year of holidays during or after a divorce can be the hardest for both parents and children. While there are likely many emotions that arise, and holiday rituals that may trigger unexpected emotional reactions, it’s important to refrain from expressing anything negative about one’s ex in front of the children. The kids should be protected from any drama occurring from a divorce, and should be allowed to enjoy both parents without feeling like they are stuck in the middle, or must choose sides. To help keep the peace and protect children from any negative emotions, it’s best to take a time-out when anything intense or negative comes up that could affect the children. This will allow for some grounding, or journaling, and a chance to calm down and refrain from speaking negatively about one’s ex-spouse to the kids. It may be tempting, and feel good to vent about one’s ex, but there is a time and a place for this, and it isn’t in front of the children.
Create New Traditions
Trying to uphold old traditions once shared with an ex can trigger a variety of emotions and reactions. It can also make the holidays more difficult in the long-run. Taking the opportunity to start new traditions that the kids can enjoy without their parents being together will help keep the focus off the divorce, or the way things used to be when the entire family was together during the holidays. It can also help give children a voice in how they’d like to celebrate if they are given the opportunity to contribute to the new traditions.
Talk it Out
Implementing new traditions isn’t going to eliminate all emotional upset over the holidays, but it can certainly help eliminate some of them. When intense emotions arise during the holidays, talking about them (when the children are not around) is a great way to process, and vent so that when the kids are around, there won’t be as great of a desire to say anything negative about one’s ex. Talking with a trusted friend or therapist is a great way to process emotions, and find new perspectives and ways to cope during the holidays.
Avoid Unhelpful Social Situations
While misery may love company, it doesn’t help make the misery go away. Therefore, it’s best to stay surrounded by positive people. This is especially important during times of heightened stress and emotional turmoil, like during the holiday season. It’s difficult to be upset when there are the right kind of people around, and this can help one gain a new perspective on a situation, or life in general. Another great way to avoid unpleasant social situations is to refrain from attending social events that will be filled with happy couples, or unhappy people. While support groups are helpful, and can be a great network for those going through a divorce, it isn’t helpful to surround oneself with several divorced people who only have divorce in common. This can lead to excessive talk and focus on the negative aspects of divorce and relationships; causing one to relive negative experiences and feelings, rather than focusing on positive aspects that can help take one’s mind off the divorce and the emotions that go with it.
Refrain from Self-Medicating
If a person is feeling like their emotions are out of control and are causing problems with work, family, and relationships, it may be beneficial to seek psychiatric counsel, or find an alternative method for coping that doesn’t involve self-medication. Self-medication comes in a variety of forms ranging from alcohol and drug use to overeating, and indulging in an activity to excess. Self-medicating may mask some of the emotions a person is feeling in the short-term, but it’s only a mask that once removed will reveal the same emotions piled up over time. This can make coping with emotions more difficult over time, and can set some negative examples for children on how to self-sooth in the face of stress.
Do Not Close Yourself Off from the Kids
While the goal is to refrain from expressing negative opinions and emotions about an ex to the kids, it’s also unhelpful to keep them completely out of the loop as it pertains to a divorce. Kids who can talk about a divorce with their parents without being put in the middle will have a better chance of overcoming the negative effects it can bring. Being honest about emotions with children concerning the divorce in a way that shows them how to have a healthy expression of feelings without saying anything that could damage the way they view the other parent is best. This is something that takes some strength to do, so if it’s difficult, it may help to take the children to a group counseling session that allows everyone to express their emotions in a positive way that helps facilitate emotional healing.
Divorce and the holidays may be difficult, but by planning and implementing the techniques listed above, both children and parents will be able to navigate the holidays with ease, and make the most out of the season. It’s only natural to feel pain and emotion during this time of the year in the aftermath of a divorce. The important thing to know is that support is available, and you never have to go through it alone.