When I was a child the holidays were an elaborate event. My Italian nana spent weeks preparing an exceptional menu of meats, fish, pastas and pastries that could make angels salivate. Just thinking about it causes me to crave her lucious meatballs!
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Cousins, aunts and uncles, godparents and various other people filled the house with boisterous talking, bellowing laughter, and an occasional argument. Nana's girlfriends always spoke Italian, and they smelled a little strange. But their pinch to your cheek, or bone-crunching hug only added to the fun.
I have tremendous memories of those Christmases long ago in Nana's kitchen. I felt safe, and a part of something larger than myself.
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However, October through December can be an excruciating time of year for those who have experienced a loss. In addition to the death of a loved one, divorce, illness, family trauma, job loss, or moving to a new location can cause serious depression during the holidays.
The Christmas after my divorce was the worst holiday I've ever had. Everyone assumed I was spending the day with someone else, and I already felt like a pathetic loser. I was way too embarrassed to say, "Excuse me but I have nowhere to go for the holidays. Can I come to your house?"
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Stop and think. Is there someone you know who may be struggling this year? If so, here are a few practical tips to share.
• Prepare. The ambush of emotions can attack at any time, therefore the wisest response is to prepare beforehand. Pinpoint a time that you believe may be particularly difficult such as Christmas morning. Then determine a plan beforehand.
• Accept. The difficulty of this time of year may be a reminder of your loss. Remember that it's a season and it will pass. Don't feel guilty if your goal for the holidays this year is to "get through it."
• Socialize. Don't hibernate. Insecure feelings may tempt you to isolate, but force yourself to go out even if it's only for a short time.
• Lower your expectations. Movies and songs often paint a very unrealistic picture of the holidays. Most people don't have a Norman Rockwell family, it's OK.
• Don't anesthesize the pain with drugs or alcohol. Numbing emotional distress with chemicals often creates more depression and anxiety. Plus you may do something you will regret.
• Leave them alone. If old ornaments or trimmings cause too much pain don't hang them this year. Put them aside for another time. Avoid fragrances, music, or locations that may trigger sadness.
• Get up and move. Take care of your physical well-being. Healthy foods will give you strength; fattening foods and sugar can make you sluggish or worsen depression. Exercise produces natural stress reducers.
• Shop online if going to the mall is too stressful. But watch for over spending as it may be a negative coping mechanism with disastrous results.
• Coping Strategy. Have the phone number of your counselor, church, close friend or hotline already taped to your phone. Make the commitment to call someone if negative thoughts become intense. Seek out a support group that specializes in your loss, many of them have events targeted to ease the pain during the holidays.
• Light. Get sunshine. Winter can take its toll on our emotions due to a loss of sun we experience. Take a walk during lunch if necessary.
• Invite a new same sex friend to see a movie, have dinner, or help decorate the house.
• Set boundaries. Precisely explain to your family and friends what you are capable of doing this year, and what you aren't. Don't let others guilt you into taking on more than you can handle.
• Understand others. People who have never suffered loss may not understand your sadness or sorrow during the holidays. In particular if your loss isn't obvious such as the death of a loved one, you may need to explain why you are struggling.
• Be creative. Do something completely different this year. Visit a friend, take a cruise, go to the mountains or the beach, go skiing or hiking. Find someone else who may be struggling this year and brainstorm. The list is endless.
Copyright © 2007 Laura Petherbridge. All rights reserved. Portions of this article have been taken from the book, When "I Do" Becomes "I Don't"—Practical Steps for Healing During Separation and Divorce, and may not be duplicated.
Laura Petherbridge is an international author and speaker who serves couples and single adults with topics on stepfamilies, relationships, divorce prevention, and divorce recovery. She is a featured expert on the DivorceCare DVD series and the author of When "I Do" Becomes "I Don't"—Practical Steps for Healing During Separation and Divorce, and The Smart Stepmom, co-authored with Ron Deal. Her website is www.TheSmartStepmom.com