This year, instead of a house filled with delight and stockings full of gifts, home for the holidays is taking on a new meaning. Your relationship has been given its walking papers, and suddenly, all you want for the holidays is a shelter from the storm and a soft place to curl up and retreat.
It doesn't matter if it was a long marriage or a short-lived relationship, if you cared and connected, you may feel like you are on a sleigh ride without the runners, the snow, or even the bells. What was once a season that was joyful and bright has now lost all its charm!
Grieving over your love loss any time of the year is challenging enough, but the holidays bring another dimension of "shell-shock" and darkness to an already stressful time.
Trust me, as a relationship therapist, divorce mediator and a veteran of two divorces myself, I've seen it all and I get it. What works in getting over a breakup is a holistic approach addressing four core areas: physical, mental, emotional and spiritual. The following are highly effective strategies from the healing section my book Chatting or Cheating, using each of those four core areas to get you on the road to recovery from that breakup -- fast.
1. Meditate, don't medicate. Avoid overusing drugs, alcohol, cigarettes and coffee, and resist the urge to stuff down your feelings using chocolate and food. You'll only end up feeling worse about yourself. In times of stress, having an extra drink or two, another piece of cake, or downing a quart of ice cream may be tempting, but doing so will only cause you to spiral down into a depression, lose sleep, and gain weight. Instead, take five minutes to sit quietly, meditate, practice yoga or pick up a book that gives you a gift of knowledge, hope or inspiration.
2. Eat healthfully and regularly. Your body can't function properly without the proper nutrition. Don't skip meals or resort to convenience food. Treat yourself well; eat wholesome meals that are balanced and freshly made.
3. Get plenty of sleep. There's nothing better than the gift of sleep to refresh your brain and your perspective. If you’re struggling with punishing, pain-producing thoughts that keep you awake, try this: Keep a journal by your bed, write down your anxieties and imagine them flowing out of you and onto the paper. Say, "I fully release you and let you go. I give myself permission to peacefully sleep."
4. Exercise your blues away. The absence of pleasure-producing endorphins after a break up can make you feel sluggish and miserable. Exercise increases your endorphins. Join a health club, take the stairs instead of the elevator, walk to work, do some yoga, or take a salsa lesson. Make a promise to do something active for 30 minutes a day for 30 days, no excuses.
5. First off, STOP scaring yourself! NO! Your divorce is not the end of your life. It's not the end of your family. It's not the end of your happiness, and it's not the end of having cheerful holidays. Your body automatically responds to the messages you say to yourself. Replace your negative thoughts with positive responses. Think positive. Think opportunity. “I can do this.” “I’ll get through this and move on!” 'What doesn’t kill me, makes me stronger. I’m getting stronger and stronger.'
6. Feel your feelings. Don't ignore or stuff them down. Let the tears flow and express your anger. Ignored emotions will only make you calloused and afraid. One way of unloading your feelings is to write out what might be too difficult to say out loud to others right now. Or better yet, start a dialogue with your broken heart, asking yourself questions and giving it the solace and attention it needs right now.
7. Surround yourself with smiles and happy vibes. Make time for uplifting things -- anything from having a cup of tea with a friend, to appreciating the pretty lights on the houses and tress, to playing a round of golf or whatever you love to do. Be sure to surround yourself with people who are your true supporters. AND hang out with friends who make you laugh. Studies have shown that laughter, or just smiling, has a way of lifting your mood instantly. A funny movie or hilarious TV show is also good. It’s about making the conscious effort to choose activities and people that lift you up.
8. Stop obsessing. Yes! Right now! All those obsessive thoughts and instant replays of “…would have, could have, should have” head trips must stop NOW. The best way to do it is to say: "STOP!" If the thoughts won't stop, then say, "NO! STOP NOW!" If they persist, then continue, "ENOUGH! NO MORE! STOP!" Saying "STOP!" interrupts the obsessive thought process and breaks the cycle of pain. Immediately, redirect your thoughts away to something good that is happening in your life.
9. Take regular 60-second vacations. Relaxation is literally a breath away. Anytime you feel stressed, take a minute, slow down and breathe deeply. Thinking relaxing thoughts and verbalizing calming statements starts the healing process and helps you lessen anxiety. Take a deep breath and say out loud, "I am calm, I am safe and I can handle this." Anything from smelling a flower to petting an animal can help take you away for even a minute, which starts the process of feeling free.
10. Set new goals. You have a brand new year ahead. Where do you want to be this time next year? Use some of your alone time and mental powers to set goals and make plans for getting what you want out of the coming year.
11. Give to others. When you're depressed, anxious or stressed, there is a high degree of focus on the self. Focusing on the needs of others literally helps shift your thinking and your mood from victimhood to empowerment. Studies show that the happiest people are ones who give the most to others, and what better time of year to put that into practice? Spreading light in the darkness is a practical way of raising your spirits, too.
12. Gratitude is grounding. Have you ever noticed that it's impossible to feel grateful and depressed at the same time? Gratitude can transform pain into love and bring peace to your emotional chaos. Remind yourself of all the things you're grateful for. Better yet, write it down. This strategy works miracles for bringing you out of any gloomy mood.
Instead of allowing yourself to be overwhelmed by the breakup blues or thoughts of being newly single, choose to do the activities that will help you feel better: exercise, visiting friends, being kind to yourself and those in need, giving and receiving gifts, etc. The holidays aren’t wasted because you aren't with your partner anymore. Instead, think of this time of year as an opportunity to reinvest in a healthier, more grounded and more spiritually enlightened YOU.
Sheri Meyers, Psy.D. is a licensed Marriage & Family Therapist in Los Angeles, CA.