Holiday Grief: Self-Care Suggestions

In my work as a bereavement counselor, one of the greatest challenges that my clients face is how to handle (some might say “survive”) the holidays.

Thanksgiving, Chanukah, Christmas, Kwanzaa, and New Year’s can be times of connection, spiritual renewal, and joy. But for many mourners, holiday plans and festivities are a stressful and painfully acute reminder of their loved ones’ absence. They often feel out of sync with the celebratory atmosphere all around them and have unrealistic expectations of themselves. There is no way to bring our loved ones back, but here are some ways to ease the pain and make the holiday season meaningful in new ways:

  • Don’t fight the feelings. When those we love die it is natural feel sad, angry, despairing, confused, numb, or lonely. Ignoring and suppressing your feelings and pretending to be cheerful are likely to make the holidays more difficult. Sometimes when we accept, rather than resist, moments of happiness may break through the clouds. If so, give yourself permission to enjoy those moments.
  • Take care of your body. Try to get rest, nourishment, and exercise. Be mindful of your alcohol consumption as alcohol is a depressant and can worsen your mood. Limit sugary treats as they too can leave you feeling depleted and depressed.
  • Respect your needs. Allow yourself time for solitude if you need it. On the other hand, if you want attention, affection, or need help with certain tasks, reach out to understanding loved ones. They may be eager to help but not know how.  Let them know what you need – a cooked meal, help with shopping, someone to babysit the kids, prayers, or kind and supportive listening. Sometimes it helps to share feelings with others who are mourning. Many hospitals, churches, hospices, and mental health agencies offer bereavement support during the holidays.
  • Adjust your expectations. In the wake of loss, certain holiday traditions and activities may be upsetting or too taxing. If so, it may serve to change where, when, how, and with whom you spend the holiday. You can start a new holiday tradition.
  • Remember and honor. Our loved ones live on in memory. You symbolically include them in your holiday observances: give to favorite charity, attend a memorial service, volunteer to help others in need, gather friends or family to share stories about them, or light a memorial candle.
  • Pause and breathe. At a time when so many around you are caught in an endless round of buying presents, give yourself the gift of presence, taking a sacred pause several times a day to refresh yourself and just be.
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