The holiday season is all about family and togetherness. But what if you’ve separated from your partner this year? How can you be alone and feel happy?
It’s the time of year when films show couples in love smooching under the mistletoe, and salespeople in department stores try to sell you gifts for your other half.
If you’ve recently separated from your partner, Christmas can be a difficult time of year.
But instead of hiding away under your duvet, chartered psychologist David Craigie says it’s important to recognise flaws in the idea we are sold of Christmas.
By doing so, he believes it’s possible to take steps to ensure you don’t just survive Christmas but you enjoy it.
‘There is a lot of pressure to conform to the idea of spending Christmas at home with loved ones,’ he says. ‘We’re bombarded with images of family dinners, romantic walks in the snow, sitting around the tree opening presents, with children sitting on their parents’ knees.
‘What we rarely see is someone enjoying some quality “me time” or sitting alone reading a book. Christmas is heavily marketed as a time for relationships.’
David stresses the importance of acknowledging your emotions so you can begin to move forward.
‘In a relationship we plan together, eat together, sleep in the same room,’ he said. ‘After a break-up, we suddenly need to create a new sense of identity. It’s normal to feel sad, lonely, even angry or scared about the future. The important thing is not to fight these emotions but to listen to them and give yourself self-care.’
Surviving Christmas as a single parent
For those who are not completely alone at Christmas but have separated and have children, Christmas can also be a difficult time. You might feel resentment or anger towards your ex. But David says it’s important not to bad-mouth your ex to your kids.
‘Giving your children a message of love and security is more important than venting your feelings to them,’ he explains. ‘If they hear bad-mouthing about someone they love this can be hard for them to understand.’
Another thing, David says, is to consider who will see the children over Christmas.
‘Allowing the children to spend time with their father or mother after a separation is a good way of modelling a gracious attitude,’ he explains. ‘Find a solution that is fair but stress-free. Make use of Boxing Day and the New Year to share visits.’
What if you are suddenly alone for the first time at Christmas?
David says: ‘Rediscovering yourself can be an amazing experience. Making new friends, taking up hobbies, joining different clubs. Being single isn’t an illness. It can be a real joy.’
David suggests one way to start if you’re feeling lonely at Christmas is to make a list of the things you would like to start to do and explore how you can fit these things into your life.
This can be particularly useful over Christmas as you can look forward to starting these new activities in the New Year.
David adds: ‘If you are going to be spending Christmas Day alone, make a plan of how you’ll spend the day. Perhaps you could invite someone else over or arrange to go for a walk?
‘Some organisations or churches put on special community events. You don’t have to be religious to enjoy community carol singing or share some mulled wine and mince pies.’
If you are feeling low…
But what if you feel very low at Christmas? Or if you’re turning to alcohol to cope? David says it’s important to recognise the difference between feeling a bit down and noticing dangerous thoughts that you haven’t experienced before.
‘It’s normal to feel low after separation or divorce — we might mope, lose energy, lose appetite or overeat,’ he says. ‘But warning signs are anything that is unusual for you, such as thoughts of self-harm or feeling permanently under a dark cloud, or turning to unhealthy habits to cope.’
David stresses that if you feel like this you should consider seeing your GP or a counsellor.
Edited by Julie Cook
David’s tips for Xmas alone
Plan how you will spend Christmas Day — invite a friend over or go for a walk or to a community event.
Write a list of all the new, exciting things you’d like to start doing in the New Year.
Don’t fall for the feeling that you have to be jolly and with family — remember this is simply an important marketing tool for Christmas products and adverts.
Remember there will be people feeling lonely like you, too. Look out for others and see how you can help them, even with a small gesture.
If you’ve separated but have kids, don’t badmouth the other person and as long as there are no safety issues, allow your ex to see your children.
l If you have dark thoughts or thoughts of self-harm or are turning to unhealthy habits to cope, see your GP or a qualified mental health professional.