Even the most amicable divorces come with their share of pain, stress, and mixed emotions, all of which can be amplified as we enter the holiday season. After all, we already live in a world where 38% of us experience increased stress around the holidays. For those who already struggle with mental wellness, it's even more brutal, with symptoms increasing around 64% during the time when we are supposed to be the most thankful or joyful.
When it comes to stress management, there is no “good” time to get divorced, even if you file for an uncontested divorce. However, facing the holiday season while your marriage is dissolving—or while newly divorced—can be especially brutal.
It doesn't matter what your family celebrates, a new or pending divorce can add a truckload of conflict on an already-volatile time of year. You may find yourself fending calls from irate former or soon-to-be-former in-laws, struggling to coordinate schedules with your ex, managing confused and sad children. It's overwhelming and you are allowed to be overwhelmed.
And while we don't have a handy guide detailing the secret to having a truly merry and bright holiday season, there are definitely things you can do to minimize conflict and strife.
Planning for Divorce During the Holidays
Start with the practical things. What are the holiday plans? If you have children, work with your ex as much as possible to coordinate a schedule that works for both of you.
Understand that your children's holiday will not be normal, no matter how much effort you put into trying to make it so. Their world has been up-ended even more than yours has and they will carry that into the holidays the same as you do.
Just because it can't be normal, though, doesn't mean it can't be yours. Give your children a voice in what you plan. They may cling to the comfort of old traditions, and if they do, celebrate those to the best you can. On the flip side, they might be disillusioned and in need of new traditions.
At the same time, don't neglect your own needs. Being there for your kids means being there for you first. As the saying goes, you can't refill from an empty well.
Be Good to Yourself When Newly Divorced
Major life events, particularly the difficult ones, are impossible to predict, though all tend to share at least one thing in common—you spend your time thinking a lot of things.
Some good, some bad, some that seem downright crazy. It's extremely common to experience guilt in these situations, regardless of whether it's warranted.
Until HG Wells gets his act together, the past can't be changed. Its difficulties and challenges might have lasting imprints and it can be easy to ruminate over the paths not taken when newly divorced.
For most of us, the decisions we make are based on the best information we have at a certain time. Just as a lot goes into a marriage, a lot can go into a marriage ending.
In other words, don't punish yourself for the things you can't change. There is no going back, just forward.
It's Okay to Not Be Okay
There is a lot of pressure to be full of joy around the holidays. A lot of it is cultural; some of it is familial; a good chunk is internal. Don't beat yourself up if you can't find the holiday spirit this year. First of all, that does no one any good, and second of all, feeling bad for feeling bad just compounds the problem.
And if it is especially difficult to get through the coming months, don't try to face them alone. Rely on your friends and family if you can. Join an internet support group or make an appointment with a mental health professional.
In our connected world, there is no need to suffer in silence. Wear a brave face if you must, but it has to come off sometime.