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The emotion most prevalent during my separation and divorce was anxiety. I remember spending the better part of a year feeling I was shaking in my boots.

My ex and I separated in January and the divorce was final in September. By the time that first holiday season rolled around, post divorce, the anxiety had lessened but I wasn’t looking forward to Thanksgiving and Christmas. Especially as a divorced parent dealing with a less-than-civil ex-husband.

I could feel the knot of anxiety tightening and knew I had to come up with ways to reduce it during that first holiday season as a divorced woman and mother. Just as I had begun to learn how to deal with my post-divorce emotions, I found myself feeling overwhelmed again.

Below are four tips for reducing divorce anxiety during the holidays:

Identify Fears and Deal With Them

The best way to reduce anxiety is to figure out what you are stressed about and deal with it. If you are having financial problems, exchange gifts that will not be a drain on your bank account. Find charming but inexpensive gifts (it’s the thought that counts, so put some thought into it) or make something yourself. Right now are hard times for everyone, but especially divorced women. No one expects you to be lavish; it’s not in the spirit of 2008.

If your ex is driving you to distraction by not co-parenting in a civil manner, let go of things you don’t have any control of. You can’t control him but you can control yourself. This is the time to behave well. Don’t spin your wheels. Don’t beat your head against the wall. He may not want to making sure the children are having a great Thanksgiving, Hanukkah or Christmas. Or his idea of those holidays may be different than yours. Make peace with it. (And let’s not even talk about what you’re going to do on New Years Eve.)

One Christmas my ex sent an email telling me he was going to get our son a watch for Christmas. I wrote back telling him the child had gotten a watch for his birthday and listed the items the child was asking for. My ex gave him a watch.

You see, with some people it isn’t about working together for the sake of the child. If you are dealing with such an ex, no amount of work on your part is going to improve the situation. All it is going to do is increase your level of anxiety and take away the enjoyment of the holiday season.

Keep Expectations Low

Face it: the holidays are not going to be perfect. You know what? They never are. Even in the best of situations, the kids are going to fight; the turkey will be overcooked; the tree will fall down; someone will get sick; the traffic will be horrendous; the weather will be dreary. Go with the flow, expect the unexpected, and accept whatever happens as part of life. If your stress is coming from unrealistic expectations, try to accepting that life has its ups and downs. That will greatly relieve anxiety and open the door to enjoyment.

Give Yourself a Gift

You’ve gone through a lot, so treat yourself to something special. Even if your budget won’t cover an extravagance, take time when you are alone to slow down, read a book, light a candle, take a bath. Choose something that is important to you, whether it’s renting a soppy movie from Blockbuster, or putting flowers next to your bed. You could even treat yourself to a nap, if that’s something you’ve missed. And don’t feel guilty about it. Be good to yourself by learning the virtues of selfishness. Reducing holiday anxiety and making the holidays happy involves being good to yourself too.

Count Your Blessings

Most people feel much better when they take the time to think about their blessings. Being thankful for what we have and not focusing on what we don’t have will lift our spirits. There is no better way to find joy during the holidays than feelings of good spirit and gratitude about our blessings.

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