November 18, 2019
Today’s holidays are filled with expectations—others’ and our own—of joyful times of celebration and cheer. Yet the holidays can also be a stressful time under normal circumstances, and even more so when facing loss.
Loss comes in many different forms, the most recognized of which is grieving the loss of loved ones. Loss can also include things one can no longer do, and awareness of significant loneliness and unfulfilled desires.
A normal part of loss is to experience grief. When grieving, our capacity to enjoy the holidays is diminished. We can find ourselves anticipating the season with dread and anxiety and asking many questions.
What can you do to celebrate the season, even while mourning your loss? Here are 7 ways to help you cope and celebrate the season:
Don’t Avoid Feelings of Grief. Let Them In
It is not the grief you want to avoid; it is the pain. There is nothing wrong with you. Your grief is a normal response to your loss and is the way out of the pain. There is no right or wrong way to grieve during the holidays, but there is a way that will work for you. Give yourself the grace you need as you find spaces to lean into your grief.
Honor Your Grief through Ritual
Giving your loss tangible expression is one of the most significant things you can do this holiday season. Perhaps light a candle in your home to recognize whatever kind of loss you are experiencing. Consider a way to ritualize the grief of something one never had. If your loss is a loved one, consider asking others to share a funny story or memory, or remember them in prayer at your place of worship.
Find Places to Be Quiet and Mindful
The holidays can be filled with a lot of noise and busyness. Consider 5-10 minutes in a day (or longer) when you intentionally sit in silence. Practice listening and paying attention to what you are feeling and experiencing in the present moment. Consider writing what you are going through in a journal.
Keep Expectations Manageable
No holiday is perfect. Give yourself permission to be less than perfect as well. Try to set reasonable goals. Think ahead. Make a list and prioritize the important activities. Do what is right for you and remember it will probably be different from others. That is ok.
Remember to Keep Moving. And Then Rest.
Exercise can be a great stress reliever and can also be good fun. Even going for a short walk can be significant self-care. Rest will help you gather strength. Practice self-care. Try to find ways to do the things that help you recharge.
Say Yes to Help
This can be hard because sometimes receiving is harder than giving. There may be people who want to help and may offer their support. Take them up on their offers.
Rediscover Meaning and Purpose
Pay attention to your faith life or your need for spiritual nourishment and refreshment. Reach out compassionately to others or try volunteering some time to help others in need. Make new friends or reestablish contact with old ones. Consider how meaning can be found in walking beside someone who is experiencing the same kind of loss you are.
The “holiday blues” are a common experience, but if you are suffering from severe depression and are unable to meet your commitments or get through the day, consider getting some formal help from a counselor, your family physician or a mental health provider. Lancaster County’s Crisis Intervention hotline is also available 24-hours-a-day at 717-394-2631. Mental Health America of Lancaster County offers free support groups. For more information, call 717-397-7461.