Every major life event, whether joyful or sad, brings on a period of transition as we adjust to the “new normal.” Even though these periods of transition occur throughout our lives, each requires us to discover a new and unique path as we struggle to move through uncharted waters. The death of a loved one, a divorce, a family estrangement, an illness, or sudden unemployment are some of the changes that shake us to our core. We are challenged in ways we could not imagine.

And in the midst of all this upheaval, the leaves  are beginning to turn and the temperatures drop. So, we pack away our sandals and shorts and find ourselves dealing with those boxes of winter clothes, Christmas ornaments and miscellaneous holiday mementos. Truthfully we do not need any more reminding of the upcoming holidays as the stores have begun putting out their Christmas decorations long before we are even picking pumpkins.

For those who find themselves in a difficult transition, those reminders of the upcoming holiday season can evoke feeling of sadness, isolation and dread. Now it a good time to figure out how to manage your expectations and consider how to practically implement some changes so you can have, if not a joyous holiday, at least one that is not gruelingly painful.

Don’t delay making mindful decisions now because once the Holiday Hoopla is in full swing, it will be difficult not to get swept up in the deluge of “merriment” and feel even more sad and lonely.

  1. Accept where you are and what you are feeling. Accept that everything is different. Trying to “buck up” for family and friends will cast a falseness over celebrations that will result in everyone feeling uncomfortable.
  2. “Plan for”, rather than “worry about”.  Obsessing about how the holidays will unfold will only add to your grief and create more anxiety. However, making a plan NOW can feel empowering and validating.  You can choose to do something different- take a trip, go skiing, visit out of town friends from high school.  Replace dread with action. Now is the time to book a trip or reservation- it may surprise you how many people do take off for the holidays.  The point is to practice good self care by pro-acting.
  3. Let go of the feeling that you must make things “normal”.  If you were the one who hosted Thanksgiving ( or Christmas, or Chanukah), now is the time to let family members know that you will not be doing so this year. Adherence to rigid rules, rituals and traditions when your life is in transition and turmoil will only add to your stress and feelings of inadequacy.
  4. Let go of trying to please everyone. This can be difficult, but the little word “NO” goes a long way in setting boundaries and building self-respect.
  5. Adjust your expectations. The ideal Christmas/Thanksgiving/ Chanukah/ New Year celebrations displayed in shiny magazines are simply fantasy. Just like real women don’t look like those anorexic air brushed models, our holidays don’t look like those fantasy doll house images. These glossy photographs are designed to set high (unrealistic?) expectations that will only result in our buying more unneeded stuff. And here’s a small reality check-Even in good times, holidays are stressful and family dynamics are messy.
  6. Stay focused in the now. Practice paying attention to the small joys of this changing season. For example, rather than worry about the leaves that will need to be raked, keep your focus on the stunning color and majesty of nature.
  7. Plan your budget now. Figure out what you have to spend and stick to it; avoid adding staggering debt to credit cards, this will only compound your overwhelming stress.
  8. Consider community service. This year’s bombardment of hurricanes and earthquakes has left many areas in need of assistance.  Or you can volunteer locally at a soup kitchen or nursing home. The opportunities to help are unlimited. Contrary to what you may think, being with those less fortunate does not “bring you down”; it gives you a sense of your own value and fosters gratitude while making a difference in the world. Now is the time to plan. Many are surprised when they call to volunteer the night before Thanksgiving that all the volunteer positions are filled.
  9. Implement a practice of moderation. Limit food intake and alcohol consumption. Make sure to get plenty of sleep, try to stick to your regular schedule of exercise. Indulging in too many Chocolate truffles or Cosmos, won’t change anything, but can leave you with a January full of regrets.
  10. Spend time with people who understand what you are going through. No one has precisely the same experience, but when we are authentic with each other, and share openly, we find comfort and support.*

Finally, whatever you choose to do, make this autumn and the upcoming holiday season one that has meaning for you. When you “think outside the box” you build resilience. And there is no better gift you can give yourself than the feeling that in the face of adversity, you not only survived but you thrived.

© 2017/ 2013 Donna F. Ferber, LPC, LADC is a psychotherapist in private practice in Farmington, CT since 1986.

She is the author of the award winning From Ex-Wife to Exceptional Life: A Woman’s Journey through Divorce, now available in Kindle format for $9.99 as well as in paperback.

*If you are in Connecticut and would like to be part of our Women in Transitions Group beginning in Mid October please click on the services page or contact me directly for more info.


  1. Msesq on the 20. Sep, 2017 remarked #

    Your comments are well taken and apply to anyone suffering from a serious illness as well as the transitions you mention.

  2. Chip Mues on the 22. Sep, 2017 remarked #

    Great post and suggestions!
    I sent you an email about it…I would, with your permission, like to share it with the readers of the Ohio Family Law Blog.
    Look forward to reading more of your blogs!

Leave a Comment