If This Holiday Is a First: 5 Steps for Coping

Let’s be honest. The holidays can be challenging, even under the best of circumstances. Food, family and festivities are supposed to be fun but often just feel like added stress in your already busy life. And if you are experiencing a “first,” the holidays are that much more challenging – the first holiday with your parent in a nursing home, or in the hospital, the first holiday where you no longer go to your parent or in-laws house because they are no longer able to entertain, or, the first holiday without a family member who has passed away.

I won’t sugarcoat it, the first holidays are hard, but that doesn’t mean you can’t find some joy. Here are 5 ways to make it through your first holiday “without.”

  1. Accept that it will feel different. This Thanksgiving won’t feel like all of the others. If you don’t expect it to, it won’t be as jarring. You may feel sad. You may feel empty. You may feel lighter. You may have a great day. You will most likely feel different. All of those options are okay and perfectly normal.
  2. Give yourself permission to start new traditions and skip traditions you’re not feeling this year. Maybe you can’t host the family gathering this year. Or maybe you won’t be going to Nana’s like you have for years. Maybe your aunt won’t be bringing her signature desert. It’s okay. Every tradition was new once. And traditions change. Grieve for what you’re missing, but try to stay open to what’s new. One year off doesn’t have to mean forever. If you need to take a break from a tradition, you can pick up again the next year – if you want to.
  3. Give yourself permission to take care of yourself. Maybe you just can’t face the holidays. You don’t have to. No one but you can know what’s best for you. If you need to stay home and binge watch something on Netflix, you can. Honor your feelings. The holidays will return again next year.
  4. Focus on helping someone else.If you’re feeling sad or lonely or hurt, reach out to someone else who is feeling the same. Take care of them this year. You will feel better.
  5. Practice gratitude. I believe there is always something good. Look for it. Write it down. Say thanks. Focus on one good thing, and you will find another. And another.

Bottomline: Take it slow. Honor your feelings. You will be okay.

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