How To Effectively Handle A Breakup During The Holidays

The holidays are centered around glistening engagements, mistletoed love birds, and of course, the logistical planning of whose family a couple will visit. It's a truly magical time of year to watch love blossom. But for those who are experiencing the opposite of a promising romance, this time can be difficult. A breakup during the holidays seems to sting more sharply than it would any other time of year. Seeing couples arm in arm strolling through gardens of twinkling lights, or witnessing a total stranger's proposal is enough to tap into anyone's emotions — let alone someone who's newly single.

Interestingly, as romantic as the holiday season can be, it's also the most common time of year for breakups. "There is a lot of pressure during the holiday season when it comes to relationships," relationship coach Marisa T. Cohen, PhD, tells Best Life. "This pressure may force you to re-evaluate the nature of your relationship. For example, do you feel comfortable bringing your partner home to meet close family and friends? If you don't, not only may you start to question why, but you may also look at potential red flags, causing you to end the relationship."

Whether you're the one doing the breaking up or the one on the receiving end, the termination of any partnership that was once beautiful is a hard thing. So, what are some of the best ways to deal with this during the holidays to ensure that you can still experience a wonderful season?

Keep your mind and body busy

After a breakup, gluing yourself to the couch for a Hallmark channel binge session while eating a pint of ice cream and downing rosé might be all you really feel like doing. And it is totally fine to take time for yourself for a few days. But making this a habit could send you into an unhealthy hole. Rather than isolating yourself and allowing thoughts about your failed relationship to consume you, try to focus on filling up your calendar with activities that bring you joy instead.

"Keeping busy is important for people during the holidays especially when a breakup occurs," Dr. Dawn Michael tells Bustle. "This is the time to join a solo activity like yoga, or any group that is for single people to stay connected with others. If there is a meet-up in your area with activities you like to do, then join in," she explains. "If you have family or friends that you have not seen in a while or have been putting off visiting someone, make an effort to reach out."

According to Laserfiche, figuring out goals that you can incorporate into your daily routine is beneficial to your physical and mental health during the holidays. For example, if you make a goal to complete at least 10,000 steps each day — whether that's at work, at the gym, or during time with friends — you're already focusing your attention away from the breakup and onto more positive things.

Embrace a festive mood

Even if you've always loved the holidays, the break-up blues have a way of creeping in and causing some serious Grinch/Scrooge feelings. Suddenly, things don't seem as merry and bright, and those seasonal treats don't seem to hit the tongue as sweetly as before. But as hard as it may be to put your heart into all of the season's festivities, it's important to remember to just try, and here's why.

"Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that gives us a sense of pleasure," Gillian Fagan, founder of Acora Therapy and chief executive officer of Under the Rainbow Therapy Centre in Dublin, tells The Irish Times. "When we get excited about buying something, the perfect gift, finding the party outfit, imagining other people's reactions, we release dopamine." The holiday season is a time that triggers these chemicals in the brain, along with a general sense of belonging, warming nostalgia, and the effect of shared peace with those around us. By really stepping into the festive spirit, you're actually triggering a deeper psychological response than you realize.

So, what are some great ways to stay festive this year? Real Homes recommends putting up a simple tree to cut back on the stress of money and time. But if decorating is something that brings you happiness, go all out! Adding small decor around your home — like garland wrapped around banisters and railings or pinecones nestled in corners — provides a major boost of warmth while being cost-efficient and easy.

Carve out time for self-care

Admit it; the time immediately following a breakup may not be your best moment. Not washing your hair, wearing the same sweats over and over, letting your manicure grow out — you get the picture. But as easy as it is to let sadness get the best of you, after a breakup is actually the best time to ramp up your pampering and self-care routine. The way you look on the outside can improve the way you feel on the inside.

"If you like massages, get some massages! If you like going to the movies, go to the movies! Self-care is always important, but especially when you aren't feeling good," wellness coach Susan Golicic told Insider. And best of all? The holidays can make your self-care options even more plentiful. Try doing a holiday-themed spa night complete with seasonal candles, festively-scented lotions, body oils, masks, a favorite holiday treat, and some relaxing twinkle lights to set the mood.

A word of caution, however: avoid a "breakup haircut" until your most emotional days are over. Strong emotions can cause us to make impulsive decisions, and we often regret them later on. "Changing our appearance is unlikely to lead to meaningful life changes," psychology professor and author Renee Engeln tells i-D. "But it's not surprising that we often assume it will. There are a number of industries devoted to convincing women that a new beauty product or practice can result in a wholesale change to our lives."

Put things into perspective

The moment a breakup happens can feel as if everything in your life has come crashing to a halt, and visions of spending the holidays alone for the foreseeable future quietly creep in. And it's hard not to feel like that during a time of year when everyone else's relationships seem to be thriving. But we're here to remind you that, as painful as a breakup is, putting your life into perspective during the holiday season and focusing on appreciation and gratitude can offer a new view of things.

According to dietitian and wellness coach Katie Cavuto, keeping a "gratitude jar" helps to keep her focus in check during the holidays, per Aetna. Cavuto keeps the jar out on her table and family members have the opportunity to write down something they're grateful for and slip it inside. The family gets together during the holiday season and spends some time reading the notes out loud. "I believe having a gratitude practice is very important, as it shines a light on what is good versus the less desirable moments," she explains. "What most people don't realize is the good tends to outweigh the bad."

Furthermore, Greater Good Magazine reports that practicing gratitude can help us keep our hearts set on the future. "Gratitude can come in the experience of not having, too, in reflecting on what we did have in the past and what we hope to have in the future," Nathan Greene, a clinical psychologist, shared.

Focus on family and friends

A holiday breakup generally means ditching some plans you had in mind with your former significant other. Erasing those activities from your calendar can hurt, but who says you have to just stay in and completely bail on all of the fun things you wanted to do? As a matter of fact, taking on festivities with your friends and family may prove to be even more fun than they would have been with a partner. Spending time with the people who matter the most to you is a perfect opportunity to practice gratitude and appreciation.

Theravive notes that focusing on your friends and family during the holidays can include communicating with them about what's going on with you, letting them know verbally how much you love them, being flexible with their schedules, creating new traditions, and remembering to stay calm and loving towards them throughout the season — no matter how much stress you may be feeling.

What's more, spending time with your loved ones is actually scientifically proven to benefit your health (via Piedmont). According to a study conducted by Carnegie Mellon University, discussing problems with friends and family acts as therapeutic relief, meaning that individuals going through hard times are less likely to turn to unhealthy coping habits.

Take a social media break

'Tis the season to look absolutely red-hot at the annual holiday office party. You bought a fiery new lipstick, a sexy velvet dress, and some killer stiletto pumps, all with one goal in mind — for your ex to see pictures of you on Facebook smiling, glowing, and looking better than ever. If you're secretly wishing one glimpse of your flawless ensemble will have them showing up and begging you to take them back, you may want to hold your horses. "This may seem harsh, but it's my firm belief that even if the relationship ended amicably, you deserve to give yourself a chance to move forward without a thought that they might view your latest selfie on social media or they may call you on your birthday," therapist and matchmaker Christie Tcharkhoutian tells Insider. "You deserve to move forward in your life without their potential ghost haunting your every Snapchat story." 

This means that deleting your accounts and taking a social media break during the holiday season isn't a bad idea. "The holidays are a time for decorating, gathering, and spending time with loved ones," Amy Gooding, a clinical psychologist with Pathlight Mood and Anxiety Center, told Healthline. "It can also be a time when people feel lonely and isolated. Social media can amplify our emotions in many ways." So this year, don't be afraid to cater to your inner needs to help guide you through this time by saying bye-bye to social media.

Plan ahead

So, it's officially happened and friends have received news of your recent breakup. They're inviting you to fun holiday social events left and right, but you can't seem to muster up a better answer than just "maybe." Whether this is because you have the 15th marked off your calendar for a special wallow-in self-pity day, or because this is the same day your ex has a party planned and you're secretly hoping they'll invite you last minute, isolating after a breakup should never be the name of the game, according to Arcadian Counseling.

So what should you do instead? Plan out your calendar ahead of time. Make sure weekends are scheduled with activities far in advance, and evenings are booked up with fitness classes, happy hours, or whatever else you can sign up for to keep you busy. By leaving your calendar wide open and allowing plans to "go with the flow," you're inviting the potential for excuses to creep in — excuses to stay in and isolate, potentially leading to unhealthy paths.

Moreover, simply having things to look forward to is compelling and can trample down any dread you may have as the holidays draw closer and closer. By having a full calendar of fun, "You're imagining a new potential future — one with good times and challenges overcome instead of a bleak, powerless tomorrow," clinical psychologist Ryan Howes says, per HuffPost.

Avoid getting back together

After finding out one of your high school best friends got engaged right before Christmas, you may feel a mixture of happiness, excitement, and — if you're being honest with yourself — some jealousy. Just a few months ago that may have been a future you envisioned for yourself and your ex. While we understand the urge to send that "I miss you" text, take a step back first. More than likely, that desire is just the result of heightened emotions you're feeling, causing you to not think things through clearly.

"For many, the holidays are times to celebrate family, life, love, and personal goals," Clarissa Silva, a behavioral scientist, relationship coach, and creator of the Your Happiness Hypothesis Method, tells Elite Daily. "However, when you're single, it can be a time of anxiety. So, what do most people do? Try to fill that void by entertaining the idea of getting back with an ex." This mindset only holds you back because instead of focusing on growth and thoughts of a better, healthier relationship, you're staying stuck in the past.

Moreover, Canadian Living shares that feeling lonely is the number one reason to not get back with an ex, because your memories of them become disillusioned during times of hardship. In other words, you may push the negatives to the back of your mind and forget them. It's best to save yourself the heartache and just press erase on any texts trying to get them back.

Don't be afraid to seek help

While no breakup is ever fun, it's true that some separations can be more distressing than others. For instance, perhaps parting ways with someone you spent countless years with hurts more than you could have imagined, even if it was for the best. When we lose someone who was such an integral part of our life, the grief can become unbearable.

While keeping yourself busy and surrounded by loved ones is extremely important and helpful, sometimes taking things a step further will be even more beneficial to your mental health.According to Cutting Edge Pediatric & Adult Therapy, even during times when you're not experiencing any hardships during the holidays, it's still important to consider regular therapy throughout the season. 

What's more, it can feel like a lot of pressure on your mind and spirit to continuously try to put on a brave and happy face during endless days of celebration and merriment. Therapy is a great way to navigate your way through this (via Watershed Counseling Associates). All in all, the most amazing gift you can provide yourself with this holiday is a positive healing journey — one that starts with feelings of safety, moments of joy, and an internal sense of gratitude.