Surviving the Holidays with a Broken Heart

Surviving the Holidays with a Broken Heart

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Seven holiday self-care tips for single moms

All the winter holidays hold one thing in common: a celebration of light. It makes sense, really. During the coldest, darkest time of year, here come the holidays, with their Diwali lamps, menorahs, and Yule logs, to set our hearts aglow.

Or not.

Let’s be honest: for single moms nursing a recent (or even not-so-recent) heartbreak, the holidays can feel like an emotional minefield. With kids on board, we don’t have the option of burrowing our heads under our pillows and hiding there until January. But these seven Solo Mom–friendly self-care strategies can get us through this tender time.

1. Eat good food. December gives us uncountable opportunities to indulge in sweets and myriad reasons to want to eat our feelings. Though you may be tempted polish off that plate of chocolate-chip cookies and call them dinner, you will feel better—physically and emotionally—if you give your body the nutrients it needs. So, kale first, cookies second.

2. Get enough sleep. “You need a nap.” How many times have you said that to your kids? Time to take your own advice. Sleep deprivation messes with brain chemistry, even after just a couple nights of broken sleep. So, no matter how deep the urge to check one more item off that to-do list (or, you know, watch one more episode of Transparent), take your own advice and go to sleep.

3. Stay warm. Winter’s most predictable equation: cold + dark = lonely. Drinking hot tea, bundling up in a favorite hoodie, snuggling up with a kiddo or two, sleeping with an extra blanket (or three)—these actions send your psyche the message that even during the darkest, coldest months, you are warm, you are cared for, and you are loved.

4. Get moving. When you feel stuck emotionally, move your body. Find the nearest steep hill and hike it. Chase a kid around the living room. Shovel snow. Take your frustrations to the batting cage. Pushing your body’s limits grounds you in the moment, releases you from useless thinking, and leaves you with a fresh perspective on life. Every. Single. Time.

5. Implement the 90-second rule. In her book, My Stroke of Insight (Plume, 2009), brain scientist Jill Bolte Taylor shares a surprising fact about the physiology of emotional responses: they last 90 seconds. In her article “The Fundamental Ambiguity of Being Human” in the fall 2012 issue of Tricycle: The Buddhist Review, Buddhist teacher Pema Chödrön elaborates on this idea:

An emotion like anger that’s an automatic response lasts just 90 seconds from the moment it’s triggered until it runs its course. One and a half minutes, that’s all. When it lasts longer, which is usually does, it’s because we’ve chosen to rekindle it.

Fascinating, right?

So as the holidays approach, with their many emotional triggers, experiment with the 90-second rule. When you notice big feelings rising up, let them.

Here’s how Chödrön describes the process in that same article:

Acknowledge the feeling, give it your full, compassionate, even welcoming attention, and even if it’s only for a few seconds, drop the story line about the feeling. This allows you to have a direct experience of it, free of interpretation. Don’t fuel it with concepts or opinions about whether it’s good or bad. Just be present with the sensation. Where is it located in your body? Does it remain the same for very long? Does it shift and change?

Guess what? It doesn’t remain for very long. It does shift and change. Science is rad.

6. Tap into universal love. Try these thoughts on for size:

  • I believe love lives not only in the particular relationships I have with particular people, but everywhere.
  • I believe love is like the air that surrounds us. All I need to do is breathe it in.

Do they sound like the ramblings of a granola-eating, tree-hugging California-born-and-bred hippie? They are, but they work. Try them out. Next time you’re feeling unbearably alone, read those words. Then read them again. Then again. And: Breathe. It. In.

7. Light candles. If so many major religions agree on it, maybe there’s something to this whole “celebrate light in winter” thing? This much is true: during the holidays, you may need more light than a day can offer, literally and figuratively.

So . . . candles. Their warm glow and the way the flames flicker, moving shadows around the room, create a presence that invites reflection and meditation. Try this:

  • Watching a candle burn, imagine all the people throughout history who have lit fires to ward off winter’s darkness.
  • Watching a candle burn, imagine the strength of all the solo mamas throughout history who have pulled double duty, shoring themselves up so they can care for their children.
  • Watching a candle burn, call to mind all the winter holidays’ messages about resilience, triumph, faith, and renewal.

Slowly, you may begin to feel less like a single person nursing a private heartbreak and more like part of a larger, collective effort to lean toward love, light, and hope.

Because you are.

Want to connect with other Solo Moms who are struggling through the holidays? Check out ESME’s Safe Spaces for confidential conversations about bereavement, depression, domestic violence, anxiety, and more.

Cheryl Dumesnil, ESME’s LGBTQ Resource Guide, is an author, educator, writing coach, all-around do-gooder, and one of two moms separately coparenting two amazing boys. You can follow her on Twitter at @cheryladumesnil.

Please feel free to contact us with any comments or questions.

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