The holidays have an insidious way of bringing up unhappiness for people. It seems like every commercial, every ad and every song on the radio is reminding you that you’re not in a picture-perfect relationship right now. If your marriage recently ended, then nobody will be surprising you with diamonds under the tree. If you are in a difficult custody arrangement, you may not see the smiling faces of your kids opening presents. If you’re in couples therapy, you’re probably not under the mistletoe.
As a therapist, I am well aware that this time of year can often feel more difficult, especially for women. Both advertisers and your own expectations conspire to make you feel even more lonely, because having someone to love during the holidays somehow feels more important. As a result, I sometimes see women edging toward self-destructive behaviors, chasing an idealized romance. That’s a problem.
Know When to Say “When”
One of the most common negative behaviors I observe in women struggling through the holidays is drinking. Using alcohol, or any other mind-numbing substance to avoid facing your situation isn’t going to do you any favors. When you drink, you’re more likely to act out in destructive ways – perhaps saying something you can’t take back, or winding up in unsafe situations.
Try This Instead – This doesn’t mean you can’t have a drink – just have one with a friend. Get out of the house, get out in the world, and surround yourself with people who value you for you. Lean on them for emotional support, but also head out the door with the intention of having a good time. You deserve time to mourn your relationship, but you also deserve space in your schedule for happiness. Happiness begets happiness too, so don’t forget to let it in.
Think Before Taking Another Plunge
If you are feeling especially panicked about spending the holidays alone, it can be tempting to dive back into another relationship too soon. Hooking up with someone new, before you’ve really had the chance to process what happened with the prior relationship isn’t fair to you, or your new partner. You are likely still sifting through some major emotions, and that can distract you from important questions like “What do I even like about this person,” or “Does this person make me feel good about myself?”
Try This Instead – You may be thinking there’s nobody to spoil you during the holidays, but you’re wrong. You can spoil yourself. Self care is so important during times like these, because you’re can’t get validation from external sources if you don’t feel validated inwardly. You are worth taking care of. Book yourself a spa day, a shopping day, or order yourself a special treat. Women often forget to take care of themselves, and that’s especially true during the holidays.
Let Sleeping Dogs Lie
Thinking about texting an old boyfriend? What about going onto one of those hookup sites? Hey, you’re lonely and possibly single for the first time in a while, so why not? Women can sometimes feel drawn to risky behavior once a relationship goes south. But casual sex – either with someone you know isn’t good to you, or with total strangers – carries loads of inherent risk ranging from your personal safety, to your emotional stability. I would urge you to consider why you’re doing this. Is it because you truly want this kind of companionship, or are you reacting to the holiday blues?
Try This Instead – Plan a special meal (This can be at a restaurant. Nobody is forcing you to cook.) and invite friends, family and anyone else meaningful in your life. Put yourself in the middle of a group of people who know you and love you in ways that go beyond merely your body. When you get to feeling like everyone is in a great relationship, and you’re not, it can really help to remind you of all the meaningful relationships you do have in your life.
If All Else Fails
So your kids will be with other family, your friends are too far-flung, and your family is too much of a problem to be worth it. Are you doomed to being completely alone this holiday season? When you’re feeling the urge to hibernate, it can be hard to shake that off. Some women just want to let the whole thing pass by, without ever getting out of bed.
Try This Instead – If you’re really unable to surround yourself with caring people, put yourself in a caring situation. Try volunteering. There is such a great need for volunteer help around the holidays, and by stepping up to help those in need, you’ll be surrounded by positivity. You’ll see happiness reflected back at you, both from those you are helping, and from your fellow volunteers. You may even make some new friends.
The bottom line is this: you are not defined by your relationship status. Not at this time of year, or any other.
Feeling pain and isolation around the holidays is normal, and expected. Your pain is real, and valid, and it can sometimes be a frightening thing to face down at a time of year when everyone is supposed to be so happy. The most important thing I can offer my clients in times like these is hope. Hope is a rope, and you need to hang on. Rather than wallow in your situation, grab onto that hope and lift yourself into positivity, and friendship and love.