Painful Holidays: Three Challenging Situations and How to Manage Them

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Holidays mean good cheer and family get togethers for many, celebrating our most important relationships, enjoying good food and each other’s companionship.  But for some, the holiday period can be a painful period for a number of reasons.

Here are three challenging situations that come up and suggestions about how to manage them:

  1. The holidays are stressful because of less than idyllic family get togethers possibly involving conflict, unresolved issues, substance abuse and/or emotional pain.  If you are dreading your annual holiday gatherings, this can cause a lot of anticipatory worry and unease about the events to come.  It’s important to try not to let yourself be overwhelmed before you even get there but rather empower yourself around how it can be different for you this time.
    1. Make a plan for how you will handle difficult situations if they arise.
    2. Set boundaries for yourself and stay committed to self-care in ways that work for you.  If things get heated, avoid getting pulled into the vortex by politely excusing yourself and stepping outside for a few deep breaths of fresh air.  Or go for a short walk.  People often regress to prior dysfunctional dynamics and roles when with family and it’s important to remember you have a choice.  If it really gets bad, you can leave.
    3. Take in the good.  If there is a lot of negativity it can be easy to miss the good that exists somewhere like special connections with people outside of a problematic dynamic or the beauty of the holiday season around you.
  2. You are alone, don’t have family to be with over the holidays and this time is a painful reminder of your isolation.  Loneliness is practically an epidemic of in our country and not just during this time of year, though it can be exacerbated now.  Disconnection and not feeling a “part of” can be very distressing for us, especially because we are wired to connect.  Remember that family is what you make it.
    1. Seek family in your friendships.  Build a community of support with people who care about you.  Whether you have recently moved or connection to people is a challenge because of shyness or social anxiety, make an effort to find others you can relate to.  There are meet-up groups created just for this in many communities.  There are others out there feeling similarly.  If reaching out is truly debilitating for you, consider counseling for some helpful tools.
    2. Practice self-care in the ways that have meaning for you.  Do what feels good and nurturing.
  3. You are grieving the loss of a loved one.  Grief has many layers and though there are “stages” of grief, it still shows up differently for everyone.  The holidays can be incredibly painful for those who are in that process.
    1. Seek support.  Whether it’s family, friends, or your faith, it’s helpful to be able to lean on something or someone.  The holidays are triggers for many who are grieving so you might see if you can find a support group in your area.  Find a charitable organization to help others as a way to benefit from the positive emotions associated with altruism.
    2. Be gentle with yourself .  Do things that feel good and are soothing.  If you feel lost in your grief or stuck in a sense of mourning, it might be what is called “complicated grief” and this is a situation where counseling might also be useful.

No matter what meaning you attach to the holidays, be mindful of how can do them in the best way possible for YOU.  If this time is a struggle, keep your focus on what you need to do to take care of yourself.  You don’t need to go through it alone.

If you or someone you know in in crisis:

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