Christmas, like any momentous event, can be hard after a breakup. Especially if that relationship had traditions or particular ways of celebrating that you just can’t do anymore.
There’s no good way to go through a breakup or divorce, but if you do find yourself in that situation during Christmas time, there are things you can do to help yourself make the best of a bad situation.
“When things get you down, make the best of your own life rather than worrying about what everyone else thinks.” – Dita Von Teese
So, in the hopes of helping someone else, here’s a few things about Christmas that I’ve learnt post divorce. Sure, the divorcees here will know what I’m talking about, but these tips could just as easily apply to singles, couples, friends. Anyone who’s moved out of home, moved across town, moved back in with their parents. Anyone who’s found themselves in a situation where they have to do something different to celebrate the holiday season than they have in the past.
Here’s my top 10 tips for Christmas after a divorce.
1. Christmas is what you make of it.
You can’t rely on other people to make it for you. You have to decide that no matter how crapptacular you’re feeling, you’re going to make an effort. For everyone’s sake as well as your own. Everyone around you is grieving for your relationship too, believe it or not, and they’re going to be watching you for clues as to how to handle it. If you set the scene, they’ll follow your lead. To steal a great tip from Martin Fisk from Menslink “Even if things don’t work out the way you’d hoped, it’s still okay. People will remember how you made them feel long after they’ve forgotten any of the material stuff. If things don’t turn out well, you always have a choice on how you react: just think about how you would like people to remember this Christmas.”
2. Start the season before the big day.
Put up the decorations during December, don’t wait for Christmas eve. Send out Christmas cards in the mail before the day, even if they’re going to arrive a bit late. You can buy cards and decorations, but making these by hand yourself can actually give you a big boost just on it’s own! In planning, making and then putting up your decorations and surveying your decorated abode or sending out your cards, you get a feeling of accomplishment that can give you a real, tangible, chemical-induced improvement to your mental health.
“When we activate our own effort-driven reward circuitry, it squirts a cocktail of feel-good neurotransmitters, including dopamine (the “reward” chemical), endorphins (released with exercise), and serotonin (secreted during repetitive movement).” -Neuroscientist Kelly Lambert, chair of the psychology department at Virginia’s Randolph-Macon College.
Doing things before the big day can help heighten the excitement, and when coupled with self talk (see below) it can get you into a much better frame of mind as Christmas gets closer.
3. You’ll get more out if you put more in.
To re-appropriate a saying:
“Most people believe the myth that Christmas is a beautiful box full of all the things they have longed for; companionship, fun, joy etc. The truth is that Christmas is an empty box, you must put something in before you can take anything out. There is no joy in Christmas, joy is in people, and people put joy in Christmas. There is no fun in Christmas other than what you infuse into it. You must learn the art, and form the habit of giving, loving, serving, laughing, of keeping the box full. If you take out more than you put in, the box will be empty.”
4. Give more.
I don’t mean go out and spend lots of money (I know how tight cash can get after a divorce.) I mean do things for other people. Without expecting things in return. Give your time, your love, your effort. Send out Christmas cards. You can make these if you like (crafting is good for you, see Tip 2 above!) or just buy some and scribble your name in the bottom. They don’t have to be Picasso, just heartfelt. Every little thing counts and will bring joy to those who receive it and you’ll gain joy in knowing you’ve given joy to others.
You could bake bikkies to give away, make gingerbread men from a packet, make a special dessert or snack to bring to a party you’re going to. You could help pack up after dinner, or even stay behind and help someone with the cleaning up.
Volunteer for those less fortunate, give food to a charity, (see Tip 5 below for why!)
I no longer have lots of kids around to get excited about opening presents, so I ensure that we have a lot of little presents for the adults to open to prolong the fun (even if some of them are just wrapped packets of lollies that we’d be eating anyway.)
There’s so many things you can do for others, and it’ll come back to you in good feels.
5. Surround yourself with happy people.
Connect with the people around you and keep yourself occupied. Kids are easier to excite, but if you put as much effort into christmas as you would if there were kids there, the adults around you will warm up too. Avoid grumps who will only bring you down and surround yourself with people who want to have a good time. Besides, how many times in your life can you pull the “I’m sorry, I’ve just had a divorce and can’t talk right now” card to get yourself out of a conversation with Angry Aunt Anne? Bonus.
Don’t have friends or family nearby? Make an effort to travel and visit them, this might be the excuse you’ve needed to go on a holiday to a different place. If that’s not possible find other people and visit them, there are so many people who would benefit from your presence just as much as you will from visiting them. Go to a community lunch or dinner, a nursing home or hospice, you might really make someone’s day. Reach out to people important to you. Make phone calls and/or skype to friends/family you can’t physically visit, even if you don’t know what to say besides “Hello, I don’t know what to say, I just wanted to wish you a merry Christmas.” It’s worth it.
6. Get your friends and family on board.
Tell them that you’re going to put a bit of extra effort into making this a fun Christmas, and it would be great if they could join you. Then follow through. Inside and out. Put an extra effort into seeing the wonder of the season, but also put a bit of extra effort into making it wonderful.
7. Self talk actually works.
If you want to look forward to Christmas, but all you can say to yourself is “I’m so miserable without X” or “It’s going to be bad because X isn’t here,” you’re setting yourself up to fail. If you see something that makes you happy, outright tell yourself “that makes me happy.” Tell yourself that you’re looking forward to Christmas. “Christmas is going to be good because I’ve made these sparkly stars to hang on the wall.” “Christmas is going to be good because I’m going to try extra hard to make my friends happy.” Fake it if you have to. Lie to yourself that you’re happy, smile and your body will believe you. I’m serious, it actually works.
8. What you say out loud matters too.
I know when a group gets together that you haven’t seen in a while there’s a temptation to ruminate and tell them all the gory details of what happened. Don’t hide things, but there’s no reason to go over and over what went wrong, today. It’s Christmas. If someone asks, you can pass it off with a “Oh, but we’re having so much fun today, lets talk about things like that over coffee on X day instead.” Then make a concrete plan to catch up with that person. Not only does it mean you have a reason to keep today positive, avoiding bringing your own mood down, but you’ve got an opportunity to catch up with a friend/relative later and solidify your relationship with them, which will definitely help with your feelings of isolation post holiday period. It’s a win-win.
9. Don’t bad mouth your ex.
While we’re on the topic of what you say out loud, just don’t. It’s tempting, no matter whose choice it was to instigate the divorce, to solidify your position by putting the other person down. It might feel good, but it’s only bringing negativity to what was supposed to be a fun season. Be the bigger person, keep your cool, and don’t let yourself down.
And my best tip for surviving Christmas after a divorce?
10. Create new traditions.
Don’t do the same old things that you did with your ex. It’ll just remind you of what’s not there anymore. Create new traditions and new ways of doing things to plug the holes and disallow yourself the thought that something is missing. My ex made trifle every Christmas, but now I make an amazing Chocolate Rum Berry Ice Cream Pudding, so we definitely don’t go without something tasty for dessert and I don’t have the opportunity to think about what’s missing because I’m too busy stuffing my face with alcohol laced ice cream. Don’t throw away good things or ways of doing things if that’s how you enjoy doing it, but if doing something is going to be upsetting, replace it with something else. Always go to a certain beach because it was your ex’s favourite? Australia is full of amazing beaches, find another. Was it your favourite beach instead? Then stay there, but bring along other people and make new memories.
Creating happy memories this year will make next year easier.