Last week’s “mental health monday” post was dedicated to talking about peace during the holidays when it doesn’t seem so joyful. (If you missed that post, make sure to go back and check it out. The story is really good). This week I wanted to expand on the premise a little. Holidays and anniversaries can be like salt in a wound, and brings the pain to the surface on again. Grief can be especially cruel during the holidays, and I try as best as I can to help my clients prepare for these times of life. Just like with anything in grief, there is not one right way to deal with it, and certainly not one right way to cope during the Christmas season. I did, however, want to share a few thoughts on coping with grief during a holiday.
- Remember that holidays can trigger some intense feelings of grief, and that is normal. It is also ok if you don’t get overly emotional. There’s no reason to feel guilty about it! After my first experience with grief, I remember the Christmas season being incredibly painful. Although it was 8 months after the loss, I felt worse that day than I had in previous months. I remember feeling like the day undid all the progress I made. It hadn’t. Remember the progress you’ve made, even if it doesn’t feel like it. I also have clients express to me that they feel guilty if they aren’t “extra upset” on the holiday. Just because some get triggered that day doesn’t mean that everyone will, and that’s ok. Not being triggered doesn’t mean that you didn’t care for your loved one. Everyone is different, and therefore has different reactions to certain things.
- If you’d like, figure out ahead of time some ways that you can include your loved one in your celebrations. Making a favorite meal, dessert, doing a favorite activity, or watching a favorite movie of your loved one can be special ways to still incorporate them and positive memories throughout the holiday season.
- It’s ok to create new memories as well. Sometimes it’s easy to feel trapped into keeping everything the same as when your loved one was still with you. Remember that you can keep some things the same (or nothing the same!), but still create new traditions and memories as well.
- Because grief is a very draining experience, try to decrease stress in other areas of your life. I dedicated an entire post to decreasing stress during the Christmas season. You can find it here.
- Remember that each person needs different things while grieving. This is the hard part of grief- people might need completely opposite things to cope with grief in healthy ways. One person might not want to talk at all, and one person might need to talk each day about the loved one. Tensions may be at an all time high because of the stress, so please try to be understanding and accepting of the needs of those close to you.
- Don’t isolate! This can be really tempting to do, but isolation tends to fuel depression. Some alone time is fine, but too much and it becomes really unhealthy. Try to maintain a balance of having alone time and being with others.
- If you are close to someone who is grieving, avoid cliche sayings. Phrases like “they’re in a better place”, “at least they aren’t suffering anymore”, or “everything works out for good” (to name a few), while they might be true, are unhelpful and hurtful. While they are meant to be encouraging, they minimize the pain the person is experiencing.
Of course this is not an exhaustive list, but merely a few thoughts to get you thinking. Grief is tough, and can be especially triggered during holidays and anniversaries. Remember to be understanding and caring with yourself and others!
Now it’s your turn to share! Have you had to go through a holiday while experiencing grief? If so, please share any thoughts you might have!
Disclaimer: This post is not meant to take the place of meeting with a counselor. If you’re experiencing intense grief for an extended period of time or notice feelings of depression, please seek out the help of a mental health professional.