The holiday season offers both opportunities and stresses, especially in the first year or two after divorce, with stress usually dominating. Though the holidays have come and gone, stress may still linger or even perpetuate new problems and concerns now that it’s January. That’s a holiday “hangover.”
The hangover’s symptoms may include guilt, remorse, overspending, overeating or otherwise overindulging in food and drink, or even overindulging in emotions like loneliness, grief, loss, or overwhelm.
So what’s the cure? Hair of the dog?
Not in this case. More overindulging – whether in food, drink, spending, or uncomfortable or negative emotions – will just bring more of the same to your life after divorce.
Curing the holiday hangover requires change, but it does not require overhauling your life and clamping down on yourself with an iron hand. Will power alone is bound to fail if it hasn’t already, as you may know from new year’s resolutions already long-forgotten. Instead, the hangover cure starts with a change in attitude, followed by a simple four-step remedy for the lingering hangover.
Change in attitude. You can change your attitude in less than a second. Here are a couple ways you might do that:
- Decide to use the “hangover” as the impetus for change, and you can see it as an opportunity instead of a problem.
- Instead of focusing on the problem, turn your attention to something pleasing or fun, or to whatever spiritual connection you have or want to develop.
- Go to sleep. When you wake up, the world often looks brighter, and you can keep this positive outlook going if you focus on it.
Once you’ve got a better outlook on the situation, you’re ready to try the four-step remedy.
Four-Step Hangover Remedy
- Identify what’s troubling you. To start, pick one thing that is bothering you the most. There may be several, but start with just one to avoid overloading yourself. Then use your awareness to look more deeply and see the underlying nature of the problem, not just the symptoms. For example, if you’ve gained 10 pounds over the holidays, the weight gain is a symptom. The underlying issue might be that you need to buy new clothes you can’t afford, or the fact that you don’t feel attractive, or the belief that you won’t find a new partner if you’re overweight. If you’ve spent too much on the holidays, what you owe is a symptom. Is the underlying issue that you don’t have the income to pay your bills, or that you will have to carry a balance on your credit cards for a while, or that you need a job so you can pay any bills at all? If your kids were not with you for all or part of the holidays, that’s a symptom. Ask yourself if the underlying issue might be that you are competing with your former spouse for their love and attention, or that it’s hard to be alone, or that shared custody created a lot of chaos and hassle that negatively impacted you or your children.
- Accept what’s happened – it’s in the past. You can’t change the past, so do your best to accept it and let it go. Continuing to hold on to what’s past will keep it present and active and keep you from actually getting what you want. These holidays may not have been the way you wanted them to be, but next year can be different if you learn from this year’s experiences and move on. A few suggestions to help you get to acceptance:
- Stop telling the story about the horrible thing(s) that happened over the holidays. The more you talk about it, the more it stays active in your mind and generates more strong (usually negative) emotion.
- Write it down and put it in a “god box,” burn it in the fireplace, or release it in a balloon. These symbolic actions actually work to help you let go.
- Find something to appreciate or be grateful for around the time and circumstances you identified as the problem. This can help you change your point of view. For example, if you gained weight, you might remember how much you enjoyed Christmas dessert or the annual New Year’s Day tradition of food and drink while watching football with friends. If you spent too much, look at what you got for your money and find pleasure in it where possible. There are good reasons why you did what you did, and focusing on appreciation for that will help you accept the positive and negative aspects of the actions you took or choices you made so you can move on.
- Identify one small step you can take to make things better for this one thing that’s bothering you. You don’t have to act on it yet, just identify it. For example, you might look for lessons learned and identify what you would change about shared custody for the next year’s holidays, especially anything that is within your control. If you overspent, you might decide to bring your lunch to work and use the money you save to pay down your credit cards and see how that goes. Or if you're up for a larger action, you might decide to make a budget, and in that budget to identify ways to pay down your debt. If you ate too much, you might decide to substitute an apple for chips as your afternoon snack or take the stairs instead of the elevator at work. Or you might go bigger and decide to create an eating plan or join a gym and go three days per week after work. Any small step will do as long as it’s something you feel good about and believe is possible.
- Take the step you identified in step 3. Decide when you will take the step for the first time. Schedule it in your calendar. Then do it. Once, at first, and then do it consistently for a week or two if it’s something like taking the stairs at work or bringing your lunch. See how you feel after a day, a week, a couple of weeks. In most cases, taking that first step helps you feel better about yourself because you are taking action. Action and positive attitude together create more positive action.
Take these four steps, and before you know it your holiday hangover will be the impetus for a positive change in your life after divorce.