Ah, the holidays.

Halls, houses, and lawns are decked with festive decorations. Kitchens are filled with delightful, savory aromas. The air is laced with laughter, familiar music, and the tinkling of Salvation Army bells.

The holiday spirit is everywhere.

But underneath the bright lights, smiles, and cheerful greetings lurks the unseen warehouse of holiday expectations. Somehow, we must top last year, and the year before that. This season must be bigger, better, more colorful, and more delicious. We must somehow make this holiday the best ever.

We have expectations. We have ideas of how this should go, what should happen, and when.

We have expectations of others. Others have expectation of us. We have expectations of ourselves based on what we think others’ expectations are.

Even our culture has expectations. Have the appropriate holiday spirit. Engage in holiday cheer. Fa-la-la-la-la, and all that. Be happy! And above all, buy, buy, buy.

The pressure mounts.

What if we’re not in the mood? What if we’re sad? What if we’ve lost a loved one (or several)? What if we’re depressed?

Holidays are times for reminiscing. Memories of what we once had swim before our eyes. We become hyper-aware of who and what we’ve lost.

Amid the smiling faces, there are wounded hearts.

Grief is lonely thing. Surrounded by gaiety, a broken heart can feel more alone and isolated than ever. No one wants to hurt for the holidays, but some of us do.

If you’re hurting these holidays, what can you do?

Here are three tips for navigating this stressful and emotionally confusing time.

  1. Manage those expectations.

One question to ask yourself might be, “Exactly whose game am I playing here?”

Instead of plowing ahead as usual, pause and take a good look at your expectations and plans. What do you want this holiday to be like? What’s honestly possible and realistic? What do you want to do, how, when, and with whom?

This is the season of overwhelm. Take a deep breath and choose to focus on a few things. What’s most important? In your mind, what’s non-negotiable?

Along the way it might be good to let those close to you know you’re doing things differently this year. This will help manage their expectations too. 

  1. Make a simple plan to remember loved ones who’ve passed on.

Acknowledge the elephant in the room. Speak their name. Talk about them. Share their story. Invite others to share a special memory or what they miss most.

Holidays are a wonderful time to honor the special people who now reside in our hearts rather than next to us.

  1. Be kind to yourself.

You can do more than merely survive. Take your heart and health seriously. Pace yourself. Exercise. Get good nutrition. Hydrate. Rest. Pursue wellness.

If you love yourself well through this time, that love will spill over onto family and friends as well. The best gift you can give them is a healthy you.

Watch those expectations. Decide what’s most important and focus there. Simplify. Honor loved ones who are no longer here. Be kind to yourself along the way.

These holidays might be tough and stressful, but they can still be good. Take your heart seriously and make it so.

Award-winning author, speaker, and grief specialist Gary Roe is a compassionate and trusted voice in grief-recovery who has been bringing comfort, hope, encouragement, and healing to hurting, wounded hearts for more than 30 years. Grab his free eBook, I Miss You: A Holiday Survival Kit, or download a free excerpt of Surviving the Holidays Without You. For more information, visit www.garyroe.com


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