8 ways to cope when holidays are hard

Thanksgiving is coming up later this week. It can be a time filled with family and good food. But, it can also be a time filled with aching hearts and shattered dreams. Oftentimes, it’s a mix of both. You may be heartbroken over some things, yet work to enjoy the time with the family or friends you are with.

The older I get, the more I find the bittersweetness in holidays and other big events. It really is all such a mix. With that in mind, I’ve put together 8 ways to cope during especially difficult holiday seasons.

Give yourself some grace.
I’m going to start with this one right out of the gate. Grace is what we need most when we are grieving or struggling with something. Other people often extend it to us, but we don’t always give it to ourselves. If you are struggling this Thanksgiving season, recognize that and ease up on yourself. Don’t beat yourself up for not cooking this year or crying in the middle of Thanksgiving dinner because someone is missing. Do your best and accept that your best good enough, even if it’s different than usual or different than you want it to be.

Let go of traditions that are painful or impossible.
It may be for just one season, but if you have a tradition that is causing you much stress and anxiety, let it go for this year. Explain to others, if necessary, that you just aren’t up to it this year. Most of the time, they’ll understand.

Avoid social media.
Nothing is worse when struggling to make it through a holiday than logging onto Facebook or Instagram and seeing posts and photos of happy people with perfect holiday celebrations. Even if you know in your head that you are only seeing the highlight reel and nobody has a perfect life and family, your heart often can’t handle it. I remember during one difficult holiday season, I went dark from social media for a few days. I didn’t regret it for a moment.

Get creative.
Sometimes you have to find a new normal, even if it’s a temporary one. One of my most thankful Thanksgivings was 12 years ago when my dad was just released the hospital the day before after a two-month stay in which we weren’t sure he’d live. My husband, parents and I sat at their kitchen table and ate lunchmeat sandwiches and chips. We were grateful that my dad was alive and home. That simple meal was delicious.

Pray about it.
Praying for help and strength to get through a difficult holiday helps you remember Who to turn to and focus on. Prayer can help remind you that God is there, He is with you and He will give you the strength that you need. Don’t hesitate to ask others to pray for you as well. Sometimes we don’t even know the words to say or what to ask for when we are in the middle of heartbreak. The prayers of our family and friends can buoy and strengthen us so much during those times.

Utilize Bible verses and breath-prayers throughout the day.
Find a Bible verse that comforts you — maybe it’s your favorite verse or maybe not. Dwell on it. Memorize it. Repeat it. Use it! God’s Word is powerful. Find a verse you can turn into a breath-prayer. Breath-prayers are one or two sentences that you can say over and over under your breath, almost without thought. A couple of years ago, we were facing an incredibly difficult situation with a loved one. I clung to part of my favorite verse, Isaiah 41:10, and prayed, “God, strengthen and uphold us.” Simple, yet powerful and needed. For so many years I’ve loved that verse for the first part reminding me not to fear. But the second part of that verse was just what I needed for a breath-prayer 25 years after I first learned and loved the verse. I had no clue when I first started finding comfort in that verse as a child going down a dark hallway that one day in the future I’d need the rest of that verse so desperately, but God did!

Set realistic expectations.
Go into the holiday season with some forethought. Along with missing people or dealing with a major stressor over the holiday season, sometimes dealing with our family members can be incredibly difficult. I have had times where I’ve imagined conversations I’d have with loved ones and how we’d get along so swimmingly. And then I’ve been heartbroken when that didn’t happen. When you plan ahead a little in your mind, you can manage your expectations to help your own self. For example, if you know someone isn’t going to treat you well but you can’t avoid being with them, do your best to prepare yourself for the situation and how you will react in love and peace. 

Count your blessings.
I know that can be challenging sometimes. Some holidays are just stinking hard. Grief is hard whether a loved one has died, is away by choice or is away due to other circumstances. But in the midst of the heartache, there is still good. Remind yourself of the blessings you have. Start with the most basic of things like being thankful for the clothes on your back or the air you’re breathing. Work from there and you will usually be surprised by how many things you can come up with. Remember also the people who love you. Sometimes missing someone else can make you appreciate those you have even more. You don’t want to be so busy thinking of all you are missing that you overlook all that you have.

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