The holidays are traditionally a time to spend with family and friends, and can be especially difficult for those who experienced the death of someone dear to them. While others are excited for the season to begin, if you experienced a loss, you may feel like avoiding the holidays instead of celebrating. This can be true whether your loss was more recent or a long time ago. Feelings of sadness and pain can be heightened during this time and memories of the loss of your loved one can be strong. Although the holidays can be difficult when you’ve lost someone close to you, there are some things that you can do to help you cope with grief during the holidays.
1. Ask For Help
The holidays can be a busy time. There is often a lot that needs to be done and it can feel overwhelming when you are grieving. This can be a good time to ask others for help. Reach out to family and friends and let them know you need help getting things done. Most people want to help, but just don’t know how. If you experienced a recent loss and it is too difficult to even figure out what you need, ask someone to be in charge of coordinating help. You don’t have to do everything alone. Reaching out to others also keeps you from isolating too much. Asking for help is one way to cope with grief during the holidays.
2. Say No
During the holidays, you probably have a busy social calendar and many obligations. Although others may expect you to do all of the things that you always do at this time of year, it will be important to say no. Grief is hard and requires a lot of time and energy. You never know when the intense feelings may surface and demand your attention. Saying no to things that you really don’t want to do will free up your time so you can focus on processing your grief. Self-care is not selfish, it is necessary.
3. Continue Important Traditions
Continuing meaningful traditions during the holidays can keep you connected to your loved one. These traditions allow you to recall happy times and fond memories of your loved one. You can make a dessert that they always made, or that was special to them. Listen to their favorite music, light a candle with one of their favorite scents, or read the holiday book that they would read. Continuing traditions that they enjoyed can be comforting to you, and can help you cope with your grief during the holidays.
4. Create New Traditions
While continuing important traditions can be helpful, creating new traditions can be meaningful as well. New traditions can help ease the pain of spending the holidays without your loved one. They can help you create a new normal that enables you to make new memories going forward. If some of your usual traditions are too painful this year, establish some new traditions to help you get through the holiday season. These new traditions may end up becoming just as important as the old ones.
5. Feel Your Feelings
With the focus on family and togetherness, the pain associated with your loss can be felt viscerally. You may be overcome with grief, even if your loved one has been gone for some time. When this happens, it is important to let yourself feel your feelings. Although it is normal to want to push them away so you can end the pain, your feelings need to be processed and you can’t do that unless you feel them. Find a quiet place, name the feeling you are experiencing, and notice where it is in your body. Then just sit with it and allow it to be. Feeling your feelings is a healthy way to cope with grief during the holidays.
6. Use Your Coping Skills
Effective coping skills will be very useful to you as you grieve during the holidays. Write out a list of coping skills that have helped you in the past and keep them with you. Breathing techniques such as diaphragmatic breathing, box breathing, or just noticing your breath and breathing out longer than you breathe in, are naturally calming. Exercising, journaling, meditation, tapping and yoga are all good coping strategies. Have an exit plan for social gatherings and a code word you can use with a trusted friend for when you need some space.
7. Be Gentle With Yourself
Remember that you are grieving and be gentle with yourself. If you usually host the holiday festivities, but aren’t up for it this year, it is okay. Know your limits and respect them. Take a break if you need it. If you find yourself happy or laughing, it doesn’t mean that you don’t miss your loved one. Whether you find yourself feeling good or bad, be gentle and kind with yourself and your experience. There is no right or wrong way to grieve. Being gentle with yourself can you cope with your grief during the holidays.
8. Honor Your Loved One
Find a way to honor your loved one during the holiday season. Honoring your loved one keeps them with you during the holidays. There are many ways that you can do this. You can set a place at the table that remains empty, as it is meant for your loved one. Volunteering in their name or giving gifts to those less fortunate from your loved one, are some other ways to honor them. Spreading holiday cheer through random acts of kindness in their memory can bring joy to others and help you feel good as well.
While the holidays are not easy when you are grieving, they can be more manageable. Try following the above tips if you are dealing with grief during this holiday season. If you are still struggling to get through, therapy can help. Remember, grief is a normal response to a significant loss that can be very strong during the holiday season.