Moving on after the loss of a loved one can take a long time. During the holidays it’s not uncommon for grief to resurface, leaving us feeling depressed or distant at a time when we’re supposed to be gathering and celebrating. If your loss is more recent, the absence of a loved one may be especially visible right now. You may even find yourself feeling angry, depressed, or resentful that that person won’t be here this year and holiday traditions may not feel the same without them.
As we enter the busiest time of the holiday season I’d like to stop for a minute and offer some guidelines on coping with loss at this time of year.
There are numerous ways to grieve and heal, and this by no means is an exhaustive list, but if you find yourself struggling this year, I encourage you to read on and try the following guidelines:
Let yourself grieve. Resisting grief and suppressing feelings of sadness during such a “joyful” time of year can be very difficult. Remember to let yourself grieve, if you feel like you need to. Give yourself permission to feel how you feel. If this means you don’t attend every holiday party or social event because you need a night in, that’s okay. If you feel like being around others would be more helpful for you, do that. We all grieve in our own ways, what’s most important is that we let the process happen and try not to avoid it.
Know when to ask for help. It’s important that we allow ourselves to feel our emotions and experience them. It’s also important to notice when these emotions become excessive or debilitating. If you feel like you’re stuck in your grief (you can’t get to work or get out of bed and have no desire to be social), it could be time to ask for help. Try reaching out to family, friends or a mental health practitioner experienced with grief and healing to help you out.
Remember self care. Self care isn’t simply having a spa day or buying yourself something new to feel better, and it isn’t zoning out on the couch or playing on your phone either. Self care is getting enough sleep, eating right and keeping a healthy routine. Good self care helps us stay healthy, decreases stress and helps us think more clearly. I always encourage clients to ask themselves during stressful or emotional times “What is this feeling showing me I need right now (eg. a hug, a few deep breaths, etc.), and how can I give it to myself?”
Eat, drink and be mindful. The holidays tend to mean more sweets and alcohol around than usual. Know your limits. Are you drinking a little too much eggnog? Overindulging in sweets? Too much of a good thing can increase some of our negative feelings too. Too many sweets can make us feel guilty or stressed out. Too much alcohol can not only leave us feeling sick and hungover, but more depressed too. Knowing when to slow down, or when to stop can help keep you from adding extra stress or increasing depression. If you feel like this is a difficult task, enlist a friend to help keep you on track.
Create new traditions that honor your loved one. Some might find it hard to continue on with their regular holiday traditions without their loved one. Creating a new tradition that incorporates friends and family who have passed on is one way of honoring their memory and healing. You may want to make a dish they loved, sing songs or play music they enjoyed, set a place at the table just for them, or give a toast in their name. There are many different ways you can honor someone, and no wrong way to celebrate.
Share your stories. Talking about your loved one can be difficult, but helpful too. Taking a moment with friends and family to remember good times or laugh at funny stories, can help you feel connected to the person you’ve lost.
We all heal in our own time and in our own ways. As you heal, remember to have self compassion and to be gentle on yourself, especially right now during the holidays when stress levels and pressure to be “happy” are high.
Adapted from: http://psychcentral.com/lib/the-empty-chair-at-the-holiday-table/