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Painful Holidays: Three Challenging Situations and How to Manage Them

Holidays mean togetherness for family and friends for many, celebrating your most important relationships, enjoying good food and each other’s companionship.  But for some, the holiday period can be a painful for a number of reasons.  Not all families function well and bringing them together this time of year can be cause for preoccupation and anxiety.

There are also other ways this time of year can be activating.  While many radiate holiday cheer and togetherness, some are struggling quietly.  My therapy practice usually sees an uptick in client visits about now.

Here are three challenging situations 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.  It’s important to try not to let yourself be overwhelmed before you even get there but rather empower yourself in advance.
    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 can regress to prior dysfunctional dynamics and roles when with their family of origin in these settings 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 any good that does exist like 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 its own epidemic 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 distressing and depressing, especially because we are truly wired to connect.
    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 and others out there feeling similarly.  If reaching out is truly debilitating for you, consider therapy to help unpack that and provide 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 clear that if you’re struggling, take care of yourself.  If this time of year is joyful for you but you know someone who may be having a hard time, reach out to them.

For you or anyone in crisis:

SuicidePreventionLifeline.org

Toll-free 1-(800) 273-8255

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Lisa Brookes Kift, MFT

Lisa Brookes Kift, MFT is the creator of LoveAndLifeToolbox.com with emotional and relationship health articles, guides, courses and other tools for individuals and couples. She is a frequent consultant for the media having appeared in CNN.com, HuffingtonPost.com, MensHealth.com and others. Lisa has a private practice in Marin County, CA and offers Emotional Health and Relationship Consultations via email, phone or video conference.

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