The holiday season is right around the corner and for those who are walking through hurt, it can be daunting. While much of the world seems eager with anticipation many are dreading the inevitable mix of emotions that come with seasons of celebration. I can remember the first holiday season after my dad took his life I thought I would just muscle through it and act like everything was okay. Bad idea. Grief doesn’t just go away when we ignore it and when we do it tends to reveal itself in ways that are unhealthy. But, if you go into the season with intentionality and a plan you can actually find new meaning during the holidays and come through them with authentic joy. Here are seven ways to handle the holidays when you are hurting.
1. BE REALISTIC AND READY
Holidays are hard when you are hurting. One of the most helpful things you can do is acknowledge that the season is going to be filled with difficult emotions and be ready for it. Part of why negative emotions are so difficult is they seem to hit us when we least expect it. During the holidays, just expect it. This will automatically put you one step ahead. Holidays take up additional time and energy so be realistic with where you are emotionally and mentally. Be flexible and patient with yourself.
2. SEEK MEANINGFUL SOLITUDE
After the loss of my dad, I become way more intentional about seeking intentional times of solitude during the holiday season. I always try and schedule extra time to process my thoughts and emotions. Giving my emotions a healthy and constructive outlet has given me the emotional margin to enjoy other activities with my family. And when hard emotions do show up unexpectedly (and they will), I already have a plan in place to deal with them. Sometimes you may not be in a time or place where it would be wise or even feasible to process what you are feeling and you have to suppress them for the time being. The danger is if you don’t give them a healthy outlet, they tend to blow up later. So if I’m out doing an activity with my family and am faced with a wave of difficult emotions, I make a plan to work through them. Ideally within 24 hours so that they don’t linger and mutate into something worse. Planning several times of meaningful solitude is key.
3. DON’T ISOLATE YOURSELF
While we need to plan meaningful times of solitude, we need to be careful healthy solitude doesn’t become unhealthy isolation. When we isolate we begin thinking about our negative emotions TOO MUCH and they become the predominant soundtrack playing in our mind. Getting around some close friends and family is a great way to pull ourselves out of that unhealthy mental space. As an introvert, it is so easy to fall isolation. DON’T DO IT. We aren’t bears. We aren’t meant to hibernate. Even us introverts need community. We need people in our lives. So even if you don’t feel like it, go to a few holiday parties, hang out with some friends, and let yourself have fun.
4. SET BOUNDARIES
While we need to seek out a meaningful connection, we also need to set boundaries. Explain to your friends and families what you are capable of and what you are not. If certain activities or events are too triggering or you don’t have the emotional margin for them don’t let people guilt trip you for not being a part of them. Don’t put more on your plate than you can handle.
5. START NEW TRADITIONS
Sometimes old traditions can be too difficult, so look for some new traditions to start. This will help you begin the process of putting the pieces of your life back together and give you new traditions to look forward to each holiday season. Give yourself permission to try a few different ideas and not like some. Let yourself have fun exploring and learning your new life. Doing this will bring joy back into the season and you will find grace in places you didn’t expect.
6. GET PLUGGED INTO YOUR LOCAL CHURCH’S SPECIAL SERVICES
During the holidays most churches offer a few special services that help us focus on the true meaning of the season. Perhaps it’s a Thanksgiving service when people share God’s goodness in their life. Maybe it’s the annual candlelight and communion service. These services can be such a gift of grace if you let them be. Even if you don’t feel like you have something to share, hearing other people talk about the grace of God can a powerful reminder in your life that God is with you, even in your pain.
7. LOOK FOR SOMEONE YOU CAN BLESS
When we are hurting it’s hard to be a blessing to others. It’s easy to become self-focused in unhealthy ways. Be intentionally about looking for someone you can bless. Being a blessing to other people shouldn’t be done with selfish motives, but let me tell you, it will bless you as few other things will. This is a great season to be intentional about blessing others because there are so many opportunities. Maybe it’s giving a family a gift card, or serving at a local homeless shelter, but whatever it is, intentionally focusing on others is a great way to experience the grace of God during the holidays. (It may even become one of your new traditions!)
Ultimately, there is no secret formula for getting through the holidays in a way that will make everything better. You are walking into unknown territory but we have the promise that God is always with you. Holidays don’t have to be filled with dread, they can be filled with grace.