For most people, the holiday season is a time of family, friends, and joy. For those who are grieving, however, the traditions and celebrations that we usually look forward to can be stark reminders of someone who is no longer with us. The grief can be more intense and the pain sharper. Even if you thought you had turned a corner on grief, you may be taken by surprise when sadness bubbles up at unexpected times.
If you suffer grief during the holidays, or you are supporting someone who is, there are things you can do to get through the season. Remember that you don’t have to do it alone. Ask for help, visit with a specialist, or find a support group to help you navigate this difficult time. Remember, everyone handles grief in his or her own way. Be patient! And make sure to budget time for self-care.
6 Tips for Managing Grief During the Holidays
1. Accept your grief.
Experiencing grief is a part of healing. Don’t be hard on yourself for feeling sad and don’t pretend that you feel “normal” if you don’t. And while it’s OK to feel sad, it’s also OK to enjoy yourself even though you are mourning. If you find yourself laughing and smiling, it doesn’t mean that you are being untrue to the person yo have lost or have forgotten them.
2. Anticipate what might happen and create a plan.
You don’t have to take part in every event. Think about which functions may be particularly difficult and opt out. Resist the temptation to seclude yourself completely since isolation may not be the answer either. Have a plan for what you will do if you are at an event and you feel the need to leave. Enlist a friend or family member to help you.
3. Tell others how you feel.
If you are struggling, don’t keep it to yourself. Talk with a loved one. Explain how you are feeling and discuss your strategy for getting through this difficult time. Those close to you will understand and can help you decide what you can reasonably manage. Don’t hesitate to seek the advice of a professional if you feel you need it.
3. Budget time to take care of yourself.
It is best to take part in holiday events in moderation. Overindulging in activities, alcohol, or food can intensity grief. Set aside quiet time or one-on-one time with family members. You don’t have to schedule every single moment. In fact, overdoing it may have exactly the opposite effect from what you intend.
4. Start a new tradition.
The holiday season is filled with traditions. In fact, that’s one of the things that makes this time of year special. Unfortunately, for those who are grieving, it’s one of the things that can make it the hardest since participating in traditions brings back memories that can make the loss feel sharper. If taking part in a tradition is too painful, skip it. Even better, create a new tradition. Incorporate things that honor the person you are missing. The activity may be something as simple as lighting a candle, planting a tree, or contributing to a charity in your loved one’s name.
Science has proven that helping others can give a lift to those who are feeling down. While this may not apply specifically to grief, there is anecdotal evidence to show that volunteering during the holidays may help boost your spirits. If your loved one had a connection with a community effort, working in that area can be a great activity. If you don’t have a particular organization with which to work, look for a food bank, shelter, or community organization that is active over the holidays.
There is no timetable on grief and the holidays can be difficult no matter how long it has been since the loss. You don’t need to give yourself a cutoff date. You do want to prepare, however. Always remember to be kind to yourself. And one more reminder that if you think you need professional help, ask for it. There are many resources available and you owe it to both yourself and your loved one to take care of yourself.