12/18/2012 12:21 pm ET Updated Feb 17, 2013

Dreaming of a White-Knuckle Christmas: Twelve Dos and Twelve Don'ts for Getting Through Relatively Unscathed

Last week, a client came in and told me that she was relieved to have checked two of the four year-end holidays off her list -- Halloween and Thanksgiving -- and was now bracing for Christmas and New Year's.

She expressed what many divorcing people feel this time of year: The holidays are a time to be endured rather than enjoyed.

For lonely single people -- those not in a couple yet, or those newly out of a relationship or marriage -- the emphasis on pairing up and being part of a family at this time of year is excruciating. There's no way to avoid it, short of never going out of your house and not exposing yourself to any media (print, television or radio). It's not just "happy family time," it's in-your-face happy family time," and anyone who wishes they had that happy family but doesn't can tell you that it's miserable. It can be two-and-a-half months of agony.

But is there someing these people can do to make the season brighter and better?

The answer is "Yes," and there are also things people can do to make the holidays darker and worse. In fact, I'm often surprised to hear how much and how often people make choices that, from my vantage point, will predictably only bring pain.

Here are twelve ways people tend to make this time of year worse for themselves:

1. They compare their "insides" to other people's "outsides." They tell themselves how incredibly happy all the couples are (not realizing that many of these people are simply putting on a happy face "for the kids," and are planning to file at the end of January 2013.)
2. They go over and over in their minds about what a failure they are and all of the things they "shoulda, coulda, woulda" have done to still be part of their marriage and/or family (happy or not).
3. They hang around with couples and feel like the odd person out.
4. They subject themselves to people who shame them for being divorced.
5. They allow friends to tell them about things their ex has said and done (especially when there is a new person in their ex's life).
6. They pretend to be fine and don't ask for help.
7. They stay alone when they need to be with others and hang out with others when they need to be alone.
8. They don't take care of their basic physical needs like eating and sleeping enough.
9. They take on the pressures and attitudes of others in addition to their own.
10. They try to recreate old traditions that the single family unit used to do.
11. They cling to the past hurts and don't move past them.
12. They put everyone else's needs ahead of their own.

On the contrary, those who want to feel empowered this holiday season will want to employ these twelve tips:

1. Own your holidays by doing exactly what you want to do.
2. Focus on where you are headed instead of where you have been.
3. Don't take on other people's feelings or opinions about your divorce.
4. Know that many of those people who look all shiny and happy now will be splitting up at the end of January (the time of year when there is a spike in filing of divorce papers).
5. Eat well and get plenty of rest and relaxation.
6. Have adequate (and often more than adequate) emotional support.
7. Journal (Refer to The Write Way to Heal From Divorce for more information)
8. Create a new community of people in a similar position or transition.
9. Allow yourself to experience your raw grief (don't make your feelings go away).
10. Look for the lesson -- what are you supposed to learn through this painful time?
11. Know there is another side to this period of your lives and increase your tolerance for delayed gratification.
12. Be resilient and roll with life's punches.

With all the stress the holidays bring, you may not always be able to think and act as your most mature self. The good news is that if you are engaging in any of the twelve habits that will add pain to this holiday season, you can make some changes now and you may even end the year on a positive note.