Dealing with Grief around the Holidays
The holidays are typically a time of celebration, joy, good food, family, and friends. They are a time to create happy memories, enjoy each other’s company, and give thanks. Sadly, for many people though, the holidays can be a time filled with stress, loneliness, loss, and grief. Aspects of the holidays that originally brought joy and brightness to your world, can serve as painful reminders of what you’ve lost and send you reeling into the darkness. Such strong emotions are difficult to navigate themselves but given the societal expectation that you should be happy at this time of year, it can make it even more difficult to cope. Not only can this complicate your feelings with added emotions such as shame and guilt, but it can also make it difficult for you to share how you are feeling with those close to you.
If this sounds like a familiar experience, you’ve come to the right place and we’d love to offer you some support. We’ve provided a few examples of ways that you can try to make it that little bit easier to navigate this difficult time below.
You are not alone
First, no matter how lonely you may feel, you are not alone in these feelings. Although it can be hard to see through the glitter, the happy carolers, and festive gatherings, the holidays are a time of grief for many. It’s normal to reflect on past memories when celebrating each year, and if you’re dealing with a loss, looking back can trigger some painful emotions and highlight what you’re missing. The sooner you realize this, the sooner it relieves some of the pressure to “put on a good front” and allows you to be comfortable to just let yourself feel what you’re feeling.
Be okay with not feeling okay
It is important for you to realize that if you’re dealing with a loss, grief and sadness are both very normal reactions. Although painful, grief is not something to be afraid of. It is a necessary process that we as humans need to pass through to heal. For many, the emotions we experience with grief can be so powerful that we try to avoid them or numb them (with things such as alcohol) but all this does is push them down only to re-emerge with a vengeance later. If you allow yourself to accept the pain for what it is, and experience it (hopefully with some good supports around you), then it can actually help you be stronger and happier in the long-term. Allowing yourself to experience these emotions, rather than running from them, makes them that little bit more bearable each time. Hopefully to the point that eventually, the holidays can be a time of joy for you again.
Know when to say “no”
While you don’t want to avoid anything and everything to do with the holidays (as we discussed above, completely avoiding the grief only makes it worse), you also need to know when to say “no”. If things are exceptionally difficult this year, maybe just choose to attend one or two “festive” things you’ve been invited to and don’t be afraid to say “no” to those that are just too painful. This serves three purposes; 1) it helps you to still allow yourself to experience some of the grief, which helps you heal, 2) but in a manner that you feel is manageable for you, and 3) it can help to keep some of the more “challenging” family or friends who mean well but can be a bit pushy at bay because they can see you are still trying to be involved in the festivities.
Do things on your terms
Whilst there is no doubt there are a number of events over the holidays that are likely to stir up some painful emotions for you, often the time leading up to the event is actually much worse than the event itself. This is due to something we call anticipatory anxiety which is the worry and dread we feel leading up to things. Having lots of time to think about an upcoming, dreaded event allows our mind the time to think of every possible outcome and circle around all the worst ones. All this does is put us in a negative mindset before we even start the event, putting us on high alert and automatically triggering some of those painful emotions. We call this a “self-fulfilling prophecy” because we believed the event would be horrible, so we worried about it being horrible, which made us spend the event being anxious and upset and therefore made the event horrible. So how do we stop it? Well, there are two ways, first, we start with giving your mind less time to worry about the event. One way you can do this is to create some plans around how you might be able to do the event on your terms, to make you feel more comfortable and perhaps have an escape plan if need be. Then, every time your mind comes up with a “worst-case scenario” remind yourself of your plan and that you will just stick to that. Things to consider might include driving to an event yourself so you can leave at any time. Or having a “partner in crime” who you can discuss your feelings and can come to your aid during the event if you need to leave in a hurry or need a distraction.
Honour your lost one
The hardest thing about the holidays when grappling with grief is the fact that your loved one is no longer there to share this wonderful time with you. So it can sometimes help to create a way to honour your memories of them so you can feel as though in their own way, they are still there with you at this time. This might be a traditional way to honour them such as lighting a candle, but it can be anything from eating a piece of their favourite festive treat to hanging their favourite decoration or wearing their old ugly Christmas sweater.
Don’t be afraid to make new memories
Sometimes one of the best ways to ease yourself back into the holidays after a loss is to try something completely different. If you find the things you used to enjoy and your old traditions to be just too painful, it can help to try something new. So don’t be afraid to make some new traditions with your friends or family.
Remember the first one we talked about? You are not alone in this. Lots of people experience grief over the holidays and those that don’t would have experienced grief at some time in their lives. During this difficult time, it is essential that you surround yourself with good people who can understand that you need a bit of extra support over the holidays. This may be close friends and family or it may be a support group or Therapist. Whoever you feel comfortable with, just make sure you have someone to talk to. Chances are, those who are close to you are probably already worried about you but just don’t know exactly what to say or how to help.
If you’d like to speak to a Therapist about managing your grief, get in touch with us to set up a session.