Here Are Some of the Best Ways to Deal with Holiday Grief
If you’ve recently lost someone you love, the holidays can be particularly challenging as they tend to amplify grief. It’s important to acknowledge the complexity of emotions that can arise during this time, and be prepared to take extra measures to care for yourself.
So, how does one best cope with grief during the holidays? Experts say that healthy grieving probably looks different for each individual. We process loss in various ways. Still, there are some general steps one can take to make the holiday less painful, more meaningful, and maybe even a new beginning of sorts.
Here are some helpful tips for how to manage holiday grief.
Holiday Grief: 8 Ways to Cope with the Loss of a Loved One
- Be Willing to Feel
Those who work in the field of grief recovery almost universally encourage grievers to feel the grief. That means not staying overly busy or checking out in numbing behaviors, but instead slowing down enough and allowing pockets of downtime where you can actually feel and begin to heal. A movie that lifts you up or makes you cry – or both – can help in this regard.
This takes a conscious effort because no one likes to feel the deep emotional pain of real loss. The best way to deal with grief is to face it when it comes up and feel it fully. Often grief comes in waves that are intense, and then they pass with times in between of relief. It’s also okay to laugh and smile if you feel it, too!
- Understand You Are Altered
Grief affects your entire being – that means physiologically too. Studies show that grief is associated with:
- higher stress
- disrupted sleep
- compromised immune function
- a greater risk of heart health problems
As a coping mechanism, your brain may attempt to dissociate itself from emotional pain, which can be experienced as brain fog.
Additionally, emerging research from the University of Colorado indicates that our brains encode a bond with those we love, and when we experience loss, our brain actually has a period of readjustment where it rewires itself.
Grief has altered you and you may be more limited in what you do this holiday season. Whatever plans you choose to make or not make should be informed with this understanding.
- Turn Up the Self-Care
Knowing that you’re altered and need to make space to feel, this is prime time for upping your self-care. You can start with the basic tenants of good health: ensure you’re eating brain healthy foods, getting plenty of rest, exercising regularly, and avoiding alcohol and refined sugars in excess.
Do things that calm your nervous system: walk in nature, meditate, get massages, or take baths. Don’t put too much on your plate in terms of commitments. Self-care is priority number one!
- Give Yourself Permission Not to Celebrate
Some grief experts say that it can be helpful to give yourself permission to cancel the holidays altogether. Yes, you can take a year off.
If you have children, you may want to keep some of your traditions going, but you can at least scale back on what you do. On the other hand, for some people, carrying on with the holidays, even if you’re just going through the motions, can be life-affirming and even grounding. Find what works for you.
- Create Meaning and New Rituals
Most mental health experts agree that creating a new ritual that acknowledges the loved one who’s gone is an important part of integrating the loss. Perhaps it’s as simple as giving to your loved one’s favorite charity. You might light a candle in their honor at a holiday dinner and ask all who are gathered to share a memory of them or make and serve their favorite dish.
- Reach Out for Support
Studies show that social support is critical for the bereaved. While some time alone is necessary and important for grieving, don’t spend too much time alone. Reach out to family and friends who are eager to support you. Being in the company of others can be very comforting during the holidays, especially if you’re grieving.
If you’re really struggling, consider reaching out to a grief counselor, spiritual guide, therapist, or trusted friend. And don’t forget your four-legged friends. Spending time with your pets can be incredibly restorative and comforting for grievers – sometimes more than spending time with people!
- Be Flexible
Mental health professionals recommend being flexible in your planning. It takes mounds of pressure off.
If you accept an invitation, let the host know you may just come for a brief amount of time. That way, you can leave if it’s too much. Give yourself permission to cancel. Put people on alert that you’re taking it one day at a time and ask if they can be flexible with you.
- Be of Service
It can be uplifting to volunteer and help others – and it provides a healthy and necessary distraction from grief. Consider logging some time at a church or local soup kitchen. Or keep it simple; if you see an elderly person that perhaps reminds you of a parent that has passed, do a good deed for them. Buy them a cup of coffee or give them a smile.
You Are Resilient
Though you may have low mood during this time, remember that people are highly resilient…and so are you. Grief can be instructive. The pain of loss fosters greater empathy for our fellows. It helps us to value the moment as we know that life is precious.
While your grief may be acute this holiday season, know that the darkest days will pass, and you’re not alone.
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