How to mentally survive the holiday season

Category: Resources

Christmas can be the most wonderful time of year or the hardest.  For many, the festive season is a time of joy, connection and family.  For some however, it is a time for anxiety, loneliness, unwanted family, social anxiety at parties and arguments.  You may hate the holidays because of difficult childhood memories, or you’re estranged from your family, you may have lost a loved one, or you are trying to juggle co-parenting arrangements.

Whatever your reason, stress and anxiety can ruin your holiday experience and hurt your health.  Being realistic, planning ahead and seeking support can help you ward off stress and depression.

As a single mum for so many years, I can understand the feelings of loss, loneliness, imposter syndrome and sheer dread at the looming holiday season.

I have outlined in my view the 5 most common stressful situations that occur at Christmas time:

  1. Waking up or spending Christmas alone
  2. Feeling overwhelmed with grief or loss
  3. Co-parenting during the holiday season
  4. Dealing with family expectations + demands
  5. Social events + the party


Below are a few scenarios with some tips and hints to help you navigate your survival of the christmas period.

Feeling overwhelmed by grief or loss

If you are living with grief, loss, trauma or loneliness Christmas and the holiday season can become the hardest time of year.  It is so easy to compare yourself to others which of course only compounds the problem.

My advice to you is to gently remind yourself that as sure as the wind blows, circumstances change and traditions can too.  

If you are finding the whole celebration inauthentic and nauseating, don’t force yourself to celebrate or be obliged to do anything that doesn’t serve your peace and happiness.

Here are some tips to help you not only survive but hopefully enjoy a little along the way:
  • understand your limitations and say no when the activity doesn’t serve you
  • make time to schedule time to take care of yourself
  • if you are a solo parent, understand that as hard as it can be – YOU ARE ENOUGH – to make this time a beautiful and memorable experience for your family.  Sometimes less is more.
  • regardless of your plans, it can be helpful to communicate your intentions with family and friends early so people can understand how to support you in a way that is useful and what to expect from you during this period.  They will want to help you, not be a pain in your a#$se.
  • lower your expectations, your new normal will take some time to work out
  • next year is a new year to improve what didn’t work this year, do your best and you can always reinvent traditions the year after!

Use this time to connect and plan with friends who understand or a support or community group who you resonate with.  Reach out to others and let them know what you need.  Sometimes even your nearest and most loved don’t know when you are not good and what they can do to help you to get through.

Waking up or spending christmas alone

As an only child and single mum, I have had the very lonely prospect of spending some or all of my christmas alone on some years.

The first time I woke up alone on christmas day was one of the most difficult days of my life.  However, I learned so much about myself, my inner strength and how powerful loneliness could be.

It was quiet, I felt sad, I cried.  I cried tears that came for so many reasons.  I cried for my loss of connection, I cried because once again I was alone, I cried because I didn’t get to cuddle my baby as she was at her dads that year.

Eventually I stopped crying, I got up and made some breakfast, I sat with my emotions ranging from sorrow to pride that I had managed to survive without anything bad happening.  I had woken up on Christmas and lived to tell the tale.

To this day, I remember that experience and all I learned from it, namely the profound depth of my inner strength. If we can feel the fear and face the tough stuff, we get to see what we are truly made of. 

I was so afraid of waking up alone on Christmas Day. Even though I chose it via a relationship breakup.  I was worried about what would happen, how I would feel and if I would be able to handle the experience of waking up alone.  As it turned out, I handled it OK. Often, our fear of something ends up being way more difficult than the actual experience.

Whether you are alone by choice or circumstance, it is so important to ensure that you have a level of self care to manage your mental state.  Some survival tips for navigating a christmas morning alone are:

  • If you don’t have any friends you can call on, either visit or invite over for a champagne breakfast, then revel in the fact that you can lay in bed, guilt free, no where to go and watch your favorite movie. Probably avoid Love Actually if you have just gone through a breakup!
  • make yourself a beautiful breakfast and take the time to SLOW down.
  • go for a beautiful walk, just getting out and about and moving will surely improve your mood.
  • plan ahead – see if you can connect with your loved ones or someone either in person or virtually.
  • you actually don’t need to celebrate, you may decide to skip christmas this year and treat it as if any other day.
  • stay off social media, no one needs a feed filled with happy families and comparisonitis.  Use the opportunity to have digital detox – an act of self care that could benefit your mental health.
  • organise a champagne breakfast with other christmas orphans
  • one of the best ways to lift your mood is to give back, there are so many charities that feed the homeless or have activities you can involve yourself in on the day.
  • manifest and goal set for 2023 and start your new years planning for the year ahead – what a great way to give back.
  • find others in your situation, trust me, with over 50% of the population living solo, you may find over the years you build your own Christmas day tribe!

In whatever situation you are in, it is tough and my love and heart goes out to anyone experiencing being alone this year.

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Co-Parenting during the holiday season

Co-parenting can be tricky enough without Christmas involved.  For many of us, there seems to be a never ending argument over who sees the kids on what days, what change over times look like and god forbid if someone wants to travel interstate or a distance for a christmas function on key days.

Spending christmas with your ex

Perhaps circumstances have changed.  I know in my situation, we have had years where we have spent christmas functions together and others where we have not.  This is generally dependent on whether we have significant others and what their family obligations are.  In some cases, it can come down to whether you are getting along at the time.  Here are some things to consider before agreeing to spend christmas with your ex:

Consider it if you:

  • have undertaken intentional healing and work on yourself
  • do not feel anger or resent towards your co-parent or respective partner
  • can sit quietly together
  • have polite conversations without crossing boundaries
  • feel comfortable (emotionally + physically) around my co-parent
  • are doing it because you want to, not “for the kids”

Do not pass go if you:

  • have not healed and have no intention of doing so
  • feel any anger or resent
  • still want answers and cant share space without pushing it
  • find conversation hard and boundaries are crossed
  • have strong physical and emotional reactions
  • don’t want to, but feel you have to

Your ex might have a new partner, or maybe you have. One of you might have moved so the logistics are harder. Plus, the kids are growing and have different needs each year. What worked last year for your celebrations, might not work this year – be open to flow and change as your kids do.  After all, it is about them.

Negotiating ‘away’ christmas’s

In my experience, this is never a great outcome for anyone.  No one wins, especially the kids.  Wherever possible, it is recommended that you keep the child or children in their home location so hand over times are minimal and adhered to.

If you live in different locations, it is recommended that you have parenting orders well in advance of the Christmas period that alternates the years so the children get to enjoy both parents for christmas day.

At the end of the day christmas is about the kids.  Unfortunately, it is easy to get carried away and get into battle with your ex about what you deem fair – but don’t.

Christmas is about the kids, it is forming their childhood memories, so put down the swords and think about how you can make it as easy and beautiful for the kids as possible.  I can assure you that being excluded from one parent or the other is not doing so.

All of this creates an enormous amount of anxiety and stress for kids and parents sometimes months out from Christmas.

Co-parenting at Christmas can be extremely stressful, but many separated families reach a point where they do it really well and their children are super-happy.

Make sure you don’t take on too much for the Christmas Day celebrations. Instead, try to relax and enjoy the day, with or without your children.

Surviving if you don’t have your child or children during the holiday season

When your a parent, one of the greatest joys is seeing your kids faces light up on Christmas morning.  The reality for many of us is that we give up that experience – or for half of the time – when we seperate.  Spending Christmas day or the holidays without our children can be difficult, but for us separated or divorced parents, an inevitable reality.

At first, this can feel like the end of the world and in the first year it often is, but here are a few of my tips that have gotten me through over the years:

  • Let yourself experience your emotions. You should not be afraid to grieve the first holiday season without your children. This can be a very emotional time for some parents, but the important thing is recognizing your emotions and allowing yourself to process them.

  • Create new traditions. Think about doing something different, something unusual. Maybe your child is not going to be with you for Christmas day. Maybe consider an extra Christmas or bonus Christmas that year at your house, and every other year we have bonus Christmas in addition to Christmas.  The kids will love it.

  • Connect with others. Even though you may not be spending every moment with your children this holiday season, that does not mean you cannot see the rest of your family. Getting together with your friends and other family members can be a good way to help you connect with others and not isolate yourself.

  • Volunteer. During the holiday season, there are various charities and organizations whose primary goal is to help people who could use a little bit of extra assistance, such as food banks and homeless shelters. Offering up your time and energy to others is a nice gesture to make during the season of giving and it can also help take your mind off of missing your children.

Ultimately for many this is the worst case scenario, and it is hard, but in some cases you may not have another option.   For your child’s sake it is so important that you try stay positive and if you cant – then fake it till you make it!.   You’re dealing with your child, you are creating memories, so find the energy to push through and make it special.

Family expectations + demands

Well with Christmas fast approaching, as a kinesiologist I find it interesting to note that the month of December is one of the busiest times of the year in the practice.

What often brings people to kinesiology at this time of year is the quest to look for answers for dealing with challenging family dynamics, knowing how to manage expectations of others and how to survive Christmas Day with the least amount of emotional fallout or conflict as possible.

We don’t get to choose our family and yet unlike any other relationships we are expected to find ways of making it work, no matter what presents. The expectation that we should be able to get along and have the perfect Christmas day because we are family is very powerful in our society. As we get older we learn what we can tolerate and choose to eventually walk away from partners, friends or colleagues when it feels unsupportive, hard, too conflictual, out of sync with our values and when we are not on the same page.

With family in my experience, it is a lot more complex.  Here are some tips to help you succeed:

  • Accept your differences, or if you cant accept – ignore. Let go of the need to change or control family members who trigger you and accept what is. It might be time to stop beating your head against a brick wall waiting for significant behavior change in someone, and make room for the possibility that there are strengths there that you might be missing in the search for change.  The more you hold on to hope that they will communicate respectfully at all times, share your opinions, understand you, show love and affection and respect what you do if they have never done  it consistently, the more you set yourself up for disappointment and heartache.
  • Know when to stand your ground and when to let go – If you are facing attack from someone who regularly criticizes , such as “ You could really do with losing some weight – have you considered Weight Watchers?” consider the wisdom of silence sometimes rather than a defensive response that buys into their game and attempts to convince them to change their position.  Taking responsibility for managing your own emotions and acting in line with your values is important.
  • Set good boundaries to protect your wellbeing and relationships.  Work out who gives you the most grief and preplan your boundaries.  Do you need to have time limits, do you need to drive so you can leave when you want, sit somewhere else at the table.  Whatever it is think before you go so you have a plan.
  • Seek out others for support and love – We cannot choose our family but we are able to choose our friends. Our view of family is changing all the time and friends may form part of our close network who will provide the nurturing role we need when family members do not have the capacity. Seek out others in your social world who give you a sense of family and offer love and support

Remember Christmas is only once a year and you don’t have to engage in every debate or argument.  Try to take the high road and get through the day unscathed.

Social Events & the party

Some people are really good at parties.

If you’re anything like me, you find them fun, but exhausting and at times a little daunting.  Some can spend five hours in a room full of lovely people, without ever feeling awkward/bored/like shoving a toothpick that was previously skewered into a chilli sausage directly into their cornea.

This time of year is a particularly crap time of year for these people. There are office Christmas parties, family Christmas parties, and for some unknown reason, everyone you’ve ever met wants to catch up before December 25th.

Here are some of my party tips to help you navigate through the season:

  • Say no or delay for after Christmas you don’t have to attend the opening of an envelope and there is a whole year to catch up with a distant acquaintance that you have not seen since June.
  • Get a party buddy these are useful to help you show up to an event and helping you stay at the damned thing.  Your party buddy is best when they are extroverted and happiest when they are having a good time.
  • Be the drunk everyone loves, not the drunk everyone has to help into the Uber.  There is nothing wrong with a few drinks, but there is lots wrong with being so drunk you end up dancing on the table in front of your co-workers or school parents like Mila Kunis in Bad Moms.
  • Find the food and position yourself somewhere near it. Aside from the obvious benefit of it filling your stomach so you can be the drunk everyone loves, you can use it as an avenue to build relationships and meet new faces.  Who knows if things are going well, you can bring someone over to the food table with you, or even ask them if they want a drink, or something to eat and bring it back to them. If things are not going too well, you can easily excuse yourself to visit the food and drink, and then, you know, visit the bathroom.  Win win.

It’s the holidays.  You may need to deal with uncle Stan and his spiky chin, or one of your most snooze fest co-workers, but you only need to do this for a few weeks max!  Then you are free!

And then you can spend the last week of your holiday leave in your pyjamas watching reruns of The Realhousewives of Beverly Hills with a box of discounted festive shortbread.


Find the blessing...

Whether you love the festive season or hate it, remember that it can be a time for rest and rejuvenation.  A combination of preplanning and flexibility is the key here.

Anticipate any situations likely to cause you grief and have a considered and calm response planned (so you don’t fly off the handle) and be open to being flexible.  Circumstances change, people change and so can your traditions.

Do you know what its like to come home?  Coming home is synonymous with warmth, comfort and the ability to be yourself.   As we are, as our truest selves.

With the hustle and demands we face in our lives, we can easily forget the place where our heart and soul reside, the place where we live in deep knowing, but most of all gratitude.

…remember gratitude

Gratitude for this life and everything in it, good or bad

Whatever your circumstance, it is understandable if you experience the full spectrum of human emotions at this time of year.  It can help to remember it is easy to get lost in grief and where your focus goes, your energy flows – you are not alone, you are not the only one that feels the bitter sweetness of the holidays.  We are here with you.

We must remember we are not experiencing life, we are experiencing the life we focus on. And in today’s hectic, volatile world, what is wrong is always available to focus on.

But what about what is right?

Life is happening for you, not to you.

We can see beauty in the mundane, we can offer acts of kindness to others, but most of all we can see that our problems are our greatest teacher… maybe even a gift in disguise..

We have the opportunity of choice, and we have a choice to be a blessing in the lives of others, as you come back home, pour your love into a world that needs your light.  You can become the season’s true joy.

Perhaps just for today, do not worry, just for today, do not anger and just for today show gratitude to every living thing.

Peace x

Kinesiology can help!

If you are having a difficult time and need some additional support, Kinesiology can help you manage your stress and provide you with some practical and helpful coping mechanisms to navigate the festive season.

carla kaine

Meet Carla Kaine

“When we stop doubting, we start believing in our new life. We behave as if it’s possible – and we ultimately become it.”

I am on a mission to help you redefine your future so you can live a life you LOVE.

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Carla Kaine Kinesiology Melbourne

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