The holiday season can be a joyous time of year, but for those who are grieving the loss of a loved one, the holidays can often be difficult and painful. Below are some practical suggestions for surviving the holidays while grieving.
Prepare — An ambush of emotions can attack at any time; anticipate potentially difficult occasions, therefore prepare a plan to help anchor yourself. Know what you are going to do and with whom you are going to do it. Do what is meaningful to you rather than acting out of habit or obligation. Explain to your family and friends what you are capable of doing this year, and what you aren’t. Don’t let others guilt you into taking on more than you can handle. Also, have the phone number of your counselor, close friend, or others in your support network at hand. Make the commitment to call someone if negative thoughts become overwhelming.
Accept – the difficulty of this time of year and whatever mood you are experiencing. Remind yourself that it’s a season and it will pass. You do not have to feel or act happy just because it’s the holiday. On the other hand, if you are feeling good and want to do something fun, do it! Both laughter and tears are important for coping and healing. Keep a manageable pace, allow yourself to rest when tired, and ask for help when needed.
Acknowledge – the activities that cause you discomfort, and adjust accordingly. If old ornaments or trimmings cause too much pain, don’t hang them this year. You might decide to “run away” to a completely different setting for the holidays rather than stay at home. Or you might decide not to send Christmas cards this year. Shop online if going to the mall is too stressful.
Socialize — Time spent alone can be a good thing, but insecure feelings may tempt you to isolate. Force yourself to go out even if it’s only for a short time. Invite a friend to see a movie, have dinner, or help decorate the house.
LOWER – your expectations. Movies, songs, commercials, etc., paint an unrealistic picture of the holidays. Do not let the romanticized, media version of the holidays become the measure of what your holidays should be.
GET UP AND MOVE — Take care of your physical well-being. Healthy foods will give you strength; fattening and sugar filled foods can worsen your depression. Do not attempt to numb emotional pain with alcohol and other drugs, as this creates more depression. Alcohol is a depressant! In contrast, exercise produces natural stress reducers. Get some sunshine. Winter can take its toll on your emotions by the loss of sun you experience.
USE SIMPLE RITUALS – to remember your loved one. Burn a candle, visit the cemetery, place a rose on your table, or do something that they would have enjoyed.
DO SOMETHING FOR OTHERS – For example, volunteer at the local food bank, donate to a meaningful charity, or invite someone who might otherwise be alone to share your holiday meal.