Sometimes the holidays can magnify the negative circumstances in our lives. For some there is a need to replicate the "Hallmark" picture of family, complete with the perfect bird ready to be carved, perfectly behaving children, perfectly set table, perfectly cooked food and loving relatives in complete harmony seated around a table. This is a lovely picture, but rarely a reality.

A beautiful Thanksgiving may find someone gently feeding a loved one in the hospital, or bringing a meal to a shut-in. Many people are alone on holidays and that loneliness that is omnipresent is even more stark when the perception is that everyone else has someone.

There is an ebb and flow or cycle to our holidays as our lives go through stages. Traditions are wonderful, but they do change as families change. New members are added; others leave. Distance separates families that once shared a home.

There are so many people for whom the holidays mean extra work or stress. Hospital and emergency workers go to great lengths to cheer others. Restaurant personnel, clergy and so many others schedule their celebrations around their hours of service. Appreciate them all.

If you are anticipating a difficult time, seek out opportunities to serve those less fortunate. Make plans for the hardest days either to be alone or not.

So many people right now are facing the holiday season having lost their jobs and/or their homes. The constant media barrage to buy, buy, buy if you want happiness, is particularly grating.

Holiday parties are fine, but beware of excess eating, drinking and dangerous behavior. Holidays are not an excuse to be stupid. We've all seen the office party that destroyed lives and careers. There is no need to exhaust yourself by over-committing only to find yourself wishing it would just be over.

Decide how you want to celebrate this year. There are no "shoulds." The Pilgrims celebrated having survived; the shepherds, magi and angels came with different expectations to celebrate the birth of a child in a stable.

Know that a holiday that occurs after a major loss brings back a flood of memories of days with a loved one. A grandfather I never knew died suddenly on Christmas Eve. My mother died just before Thanksgiving. Tragedies mar days of celebration. We do not have to compound the sadness by pretending, by going through the motions, unless that is how we decide to cope or decide to act for the sake of children. It is perfectly alright to let a holiday or season pass without fanfare. It may be all you can do to get through the day and on to the next one. Be gentle with yourself.

Seven Tips for Coping With the Holidays

1. Assess your physical, emotional and spiritual needs and desires. Plan accordingly ahead of time what you will do and not do.
2. Evaluate what is most important for you. It may be family-centered. You may be the host and planner for extended family, or you may be the one traveling.
-- Are you really able to do the cooking, lodging, etc, or is it time to let someone else do it?
-- Is traveling right for your family this year or do you need to stay home and begin new traditions.
-- Do you need a quiet, low-key time of reflection and healing? Allow that for yourself.
3. Meaning. Take the time to be present and conscious of the holiday; to be grateful; to worship; to give.
4. Be honest about your needs. If you are mourning the loss of a loved one, a job, a home; grieve accordingly.
5. Just because you have always done it doesn't mean you have to do it this year. You may be in a particularly demanding job or home situation and adding more demands will seriously stress you. Then don't. You may be experiencing health issues that suggest curtailing some activities. Then do it. We can get caught up in doing more and more each year. It may be time this year to take a step back.
6. Realize that some things are beyond your control. No matter how hard you try, you or someone you love may be disappointed or hurt during this time. Life events continue every day.
7. Reach out to those less fortunate. At the end of the day, this will bring the most satisfaction. Plan ahead what and how you will do this.

Author's Bio: 

Ignite the spark of hope within, recognize your personal value and visit Helen Flynn at http://www.ClareauCoaching.com. Helen is owner of Clareau Coaching and offers coaching for individuals or groups in transition, and speaks on a variety of topics related to leadership, self determination, personal responsibility and interpersonal relationships.