How to Cope With Heartbreak at Christmas, According to Psychotherapist

As seen in Yahoo! on December 1, 2023, by Hannah Millington.

Heartbreak is never easy to endure, but heartbreak at Christmas can feel especially brutal.

Whether you’ve been broken up with or have had to end it with someone you love, the breakdown of a relationship is personal and can hurt for different reasons.

But at a time when we’re meant to feel ‘merry’ and full of love, being surrounded by festive cheer or news of proposals and engagements can only make you feel more alone.

But the good news is, you aren’t alone, and while there’s no quick fix to turn into a robot and rid yourself of any feelings (which wouldn’t be helpful anyway), there are things to make it feel not quite so awful.

Coping with heartbreak at Christmas

“Breakups can be particularly difficult at Christmas because this is the time of the year that’s been sold to us as a time of connection. Christmas, in our fantasy, imagination and in the movies, is all about togetherness and happiness,” says psychotherapist Fiona Yassin.

“When we feel that the idyllic Christmas we’ve dreamed of with another half or with our children might not happen, there’s often a feeling of grief. So much time and energy is ploughed into a relationship that when it ends, it can feel like there’s a big gaping hole. A common response is to really quickly fill that hole with something because we want to take away those feelings of unhappiness and emptiness.”

And, as well as pressure to be perfect at this time of year intensifying pain, Yassin, founder and clinical director of The Wave Clinic, points out that heartbreak during the festive season can be especially overwhelming for those who have a history of being anxious, bullied, or already believe they’re not enough (particularly if you’ve been ‘dumped’).

So, to help combat this overload of unwelcome feelings (across the ages), our heartbreak expert shares the simple coping strategies you can use to turn what might feel like the end of the world into a period of healing (and even self-development!).

While this is aimed at romantic heartbreak, you may find it useful for other types of heartbreak, negative feelings, or loneliness and isolation as a whole…

How to cope with heartbreak at Christmas

1. Use grounding techniques

“Grounding techniques are a helpful way for people to manage and work through emotions and sensations they wish they weren’t feeling. By using grounding techniques, we are not saying that we will not deal with or process the emotions and sensations, but we are saying that right now, at this moment, our emotions are not going to intrude on what I’m doing, Yassin explains. “There are lots of different grounding techniques people can use to manage being triggered or activated.”

“Walking can be really good to bring you back into the moment. When we walk and put one foot in front of the other we are actually stimulating both sides of the brain in a process called Bilateral Stimulation (BLS) which can feel soothing for some.”

Many people find repetitive activities such as cross stitch or crochet to be calming, whilst others find being in motion by sitting on a swing or rocking can help bring them into the present moment. Journaling or watching a good movie can also be effective grounding techniques.”

If you suffer a breakup at Christmas, this will help you say, “At this moment, I am not going to allow these negative emotions to intrude on what I’m doing’ and enjoy any festive activities you choose to go to. “In turn, this can help to reduce feelings of isolation and loneliness that can creep up on us at this time of the year.”

2. Limit your time on social media

“Limit social media use to avoid being bombarded with what friends, peers and idols are doing. When we see others having fun on social media, and we feel we are not, it can trigger negative emotions like loneliness and isolation,” says Yassin.

“Christmas is a popular time for people to get engaged, and we tend to see lots of pictures of proposals and baby scans on our social media feeds. This can really sting if you find that you are not in that position and you’d hoped that you would be.”

3. Allow balance in your feelings

Expanding on the above, there is also a way we can prevent ourselves from becoming too resentful. “What we can do is acknowledge that it’s something we would like for ourselves but that it is not something that’s happening right now. We can be happy for someone else whilst acknowledging and holding our own thoughts and feelings,” says Yassin.

That said, the expert points out it’s normal to feel jealous at the moment, and this actually shows you have hope and want things for yourself, so allow yourself to feel these pangs occasionally. “Once we give ourselves the permission to hold both excitement for someone else and unhappiness for yourself, processing information becomes much easier.”

4. Don’t air your dirty laundry

While ultimately it’s down to you how you choose to grieve your relationship, Yassin cautions against oversharing about it on social media.”

“Recent research shows that people are less compassionate and empathetic to those they believe are oversharing. Therefore, people who do this online are less likely to get the empathetic responses they may be looking for. This can provoke a spiral of negative and unwelcome reactions.”

So, instead of seeking validation on social media (i.e. that the other person was in the wrong), Yassin believes the only thing that will truly help is being able to process and find your own space.

“Instead, let those closest to you know that you’ve had a difficult time and you’re now not together. Tell them that you’re still working out how you feel about the situation and that you are not ready to go public with it yet,” the psychotherapist advises.

“It can also be really helpful to tell your close network that you don’t want to be alone and if they have organised Christmas activities, that you’d like to join them. Equally, if you’ve agreed to attend social events, you also hope they understand that you may no longer want to attend.”

This includes communicating with them whether you still want to attend or be invited to any social situations that your ex may be at to save you from being inadvertently left out or isolated.

5. Avoid rushing into another relationship

Often, rebounds signal you’re already struggling with interpersonal relations and relationships. It’s unlikely a rebound will be healthy if you don’t allow yourself the time and space to figure out how you’re feeling first.

“Moving into the party season and then a new year does, particularly for semi-committed relationships, tend to be a time of change,” says Yassin.

“The flowing drinks, mistletoe and magic of Christmas lends itself to creating relationships and many people will hope to meet someone over this time.

In reality, moving from one relationship to the other is not only unlikely to last and be unfulfilling, but it’s also unlikely to take away the feeling you have for the relationship you’ve lost.

“Instead, what we need to do is sit with our feelings because that’s where the growth in learning about ourselves and relationships takes place.”

And if you are single or alone at Christmas, while you can enjoy meeting others at social events, know it won’t be the solution to your problem (unless you find some peace and acceptance first).

How to help young people going through heartbreak at Christmas

It may not be you, but your child or younger family member suffering from heartache at this time of year. And how you lend a helping hand matters.

Yassin explains that the brain doesn’t finish developing until around 26, so when young people have painful or difficult experiences – like a breakup – it can be incredibly overwhelming for them as they’re not always equipped with the skills to deal with it.

As a caregiver, you may be tempted to hurry the process along – particularly at Christmas when there is pressure to be joyful and fun. However, Yassin suggests we ensure young people going through a breakup are given the time to sit with their feelings.

“Although we want our family and friends to be happy all the time, it’s not the reality. However tempting it can be to rush their emotions so you can enjoy the festive time, it’s important not to let your discomfort with their emotions override that person’s need to feel.

You might try and draw an end to the crying or emotion with the greatest love and care in the world, but it can make the other person feel they are not being seen and not being heard,” Yassin explains.

Instead of putting a full stop to their emotions by telling them there’s plenty more fish in the sea, “Stick with them in their sadness, let them know you’ve heard them, and that you understand how painful this experience is for them.”

Ultimately, this will help them heal faster.

So, while heartbreak at Christmas might feel like the end of the world, it really doesn’t have to be.