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Tips for weathering the holiday season after divorce

Depending on the circumstances of your divorce, your reaction to the holiday season can bring a variety of emotions.

Getting divorced is stressful even when the parties are separating under amicable circumstances. One reason for this for many people is that they will be leaving behind traditions that may have evolved over decades. You might be close with your in-laws and have spent days of significance with them. Or, you and your spouse may have spent New Year's Eve with old friends - and who will go this year? Are you going to still go to holiday services at the same church, synagogue or mosque where your ex still attends, if that was a tradition?

And, let's face it - divorce can involve great grief, anger, sadness or other deep feelings. The holiday season can normally bring pressure to get certain tasks done and to see extended family with whom your relationship may be strained. Even without the divorce, holidays can induce anxiety.

First, take care of yourself. Consider which gatherings you will continue to attend, and which no longer make sense. Pace yourself if doing too much is overwhelming. On the other hand, if you thrive on being busy, try to fill your schedule with uplifting activity either alone or with people who lift you up, whichever is better for you.

If what you need is to be alone doing something not holiday related, give yourself permission to do that.

If you are overwhelmed, seek a counselor to help you sort through your feelings and make a plan for navigating this time into the future. Don't expect yourself to snap out of it - it will likely take time and emotions will vary.

If you have children, they may also be struggling to understand how things will change and how they will stay the same. Talk to them and talk to your ex to see if you can all plan time for the children to be with each parent and their extended families, if that is in the kids' best interest. Create a holiday schedule and set expectations. Speak about the circumstances as positive - not only will there still be time with each parent, but also you and the children can create new traditions together. The kids may have a tough time though - be prepared for this.

If you and your ex have trouble communicating, try to put aside your differences for the sake of the children. Hopefully, you negotiated (or the judge approved) a parenting plan that already sets out a holiday schedule, but if you need to work through some conflict, take a deep breath and think of the children as you try to work things out.

Whatever you are going through this holiday season, take a deep breath and pace yourself. Keep expectations for yourself reasonable and take it a day at a time. You can take steps now to plan for a brighter future.

Family lawyer Gregory W. Stevens in Salt Lake City, Utah, represents clients in divorce throughout the region.

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