How to Survive – and Enjoy! – Your First Holidays On Your Own

The holidays for most of us are a mix of excitement, joy, celebration, as well as sadness, anxiety, and even emptiness. For those who are newly single, the holidays can feel especially empty, sad, and daunting. If this is the first holiday season you are spending as an “unattached” person due to a relationship break-up, divorce, or death of a spouse or partner, read on to find some practical suggestions from the Talk Works staff for how to survive – and even enjoy! – the upcoming holidays.

If you have recently experienced the loss of your primary relationship, the holiday season can be an emotionally vulnerable time: it is essential to tend to your physical and emotional health.

If you are in the acute stage of grieving the loss of your relationship, it is important that you allow yourself time to grieve and process the loss. However, it is equally important that you prevent the grief and loss from overwhelming you. In order to achieve this balance, it is vital to recognize that the grieving process has an end. Say over and over to yourself: this will not go on forever. Tell yourself repeatedly, that as each day passes, you are moving ahead in the process of healing. Know this is true and translate your knowing into feeling. It may also be necessary for you to schedule periods of time in which you allow yourself to grieve and process the loss. We suggest a pragmatic schedule of 30 minutes to an hour, 2-3 times each day, to cry, write in a journal, read about the grieving process, or think about your loss. Be sure to keep to your schedule. After the scheduled time has ended, move to an activity that takes you away – as much as possible – from these feelings and thoughts and makes you feel good. For example, go for a walk while listening to your favorite music, take yourself to a movie, have dinner with a friend, go to the gym, or read a book.

Be kind and gentle with yourself; pamper and nurture yourself. This may mean that you lower your expectations for what you can accomplish during a day. We suggest that you ban all “shoulds” from your vocabulary (“I ‘should’ be spending more time with my family.” “I ‘should’ spend all Saturday shopping for presents”). It may mean that you allow yourself to sleep 9 instead of 8 hours per night, and that each night you treat yourself to a glass of wine or a bubble bath before bed, for example. Give yourself some extra care and pampering.
Recommended Reading: How to Survive the Loss of a Love, by M. Colgrove, H. Bloomfield, & P. McWilliams.

If you are no longer in the acute stage of grieving the end of your relationship, you still may need to give yourself emotional first aid. For starters, pay attention to which feelings are surfacing during the holidays – sadness? anger? fear? loneliness? Keep a journal to help you identify the source of these feelings and to provide a place to release them. Writing can be a far more positive and effective activity than thinking. Identifying and understanding your feelings is an important step in applying emotional first aid. For example, if you are able to identify that the nagging, empty feeling you have is loneliness, you can take steps to reach out to friends, or to plan activities that will allow you to socialize with and meet new people – for example, by volunteering, attending a holiday concert or poetry reading, or participating in activities planned through a church or spiritual community.
If it is anger that you are feeling, we suggest trying a physically challenging activity such as hiking, kick-boxing, weight-lifting, or giving your home a vigorous cleaning.

Identify any “distorted” or “mistaken” beliefs, thoughts or assumptions you may have about being unattached during the holidays. Common distorted beliefs include, “There is something wrong with me if I am spending the holidays without a lover/partner/spouse”; “Holidays are depressing if you are single”; “I am all alone and will have to spend every holiday by myself”. Once you have identified your particular distorted or mistaken beliefs, challenge and replace them. For example, do you find yourself believing that the holidays are not special or meaningful unless shared with a spouse, lover or partner? Do you assume that the holidays are depressing and dreary if you are single? If so, look around among the people you know or the people you encounter and find examples that prove this isn’t true – people who are happy, enjoying life, and finding joy in the holidays without a partner. Appreciate the attitude these people have, spend time with them as you can, and you may find that their attitude is beginning to sink in with you. Keep asking yourself, is it truly necessary to have a lover in order to have a very wonderful, meaningful holiday? Look around you to single friends, colleagues, or relatives to see how they spend their holidays. Make a list of all the things that makes a holiday meaningful and special to you and ask yourself how many of these you can have and enjoy without a partner. Don’t assume that you need a lover or partner to make holidays special!
Recommended Reading: Feeling Good, by David Burns, M.D.

What do you love about the holidays? Is it the rituals and celebration? If so, create or share your own rituals and celebrations with friends and families. Develop your own traditions – such as a Thanksgiving potluck with all your “unattached” friends, hosting a cocktail party on Christmas Eve, organizing a candle lighting and dinner celebration for Hanukah, a private New Year’s Eve ritual in which you reflect on all that you are grateful for and develop a plan for the New Year, or a New Year’s Day brunch with your closest friends and family. Is it the spiritual meaning of holidays that you love? If so, participate in a holiday meditation retreat, attend services at your local church or synagogue, host a “discussion” group on the meaning of the holiday with friends, family, or members of your spiritual or religious community. Don’t wait for someone else to include you in holiday celebrations. Instead, seek out what you need and want to make the holidays enjoyable.

Volunteering, helping those in circumstances more unfortunate than your own, is a tried and true way to improve your mood and your overall outlook on life. Why does it work? There are many reasons why helping others is an effective way to lift your spirits. Helping others in need reminds us of what we have to be grateful for. It also takes you outside of your own head, which may be filled with fear, resentment, pain, bitterness, sadness and anger. Taking a break from these feelings and the thoughts that cause them is necessary, and helping others is one of the best ways to do so. In other words, helping others can be an extremely rewarding distraction. It also feels good. Giving to those in need ignites the compassionate, humanitarian part of ourselves, and increases our sense of connection with others, making us feel less alone. So give it a try! Maybe you want to volunteer your time at a local homeless shelter. Perhaps your church or spiritual community has organized a food and clothing drive you can participate in. Or, find the local post office that receives children’s “Dear Santa” letters, choose a child’s letter, and play Santa to a family in need.

Difficult times, times in which we experience emotional vulnerability, loss, sadness and grief frequently lead to the most growth and positive change within ourselves and our lives. Use the approaching New Year as an opportunity to think about the ways in which you are growing and your life is positively changing. While the loss of your relationship has undoubtedly caused much sadness, upset, and upheaval, this loss has also created increased space in yourself and your life. The question for you to ask yourself is: with what will you fill this space? What will you do with this new freedom? New hobbies or pursuing new interests? A new direction in your career? Daily journal writing or meditating? More reading? Reaching out to old friends, and making new ones? Begin exploring and identifying how the end of your relationship can also be used as an opportunity for rebuilding your life and yourself in new and empowering ways. If the loss of your relationship is too fresh for you, and you are feeling intense pain and grief, refer back to the beginning of this article, and give yourself “emotional first aid” until you are ready to begin seeing the ways in which the end of your relationship may be the beginning of many positive opportunities.
Recommended reading: When Things Fall Apart, by Pema Chodron

The staff at Talk Works truly believes that the holidays can be meaningful and joyous even during periods of significant life and relationship transitions. We wish you much joy, growth and fulfillment in the New Year!

Author's Bio: 

Dr. Holly Pedersen, Ph.D. is the President and co-founder of Talk Works, Inc. a conflict-resolution and communication training company in Beverly Hills, California. A successful author, lecturer and entrepreneur, Dr. Pedersen is dedicated to providing individuals, couples, and business organizations with new communication skills that minimize stress and maximize success.