Lights, music, festivities, and feasts all around -- but if you're grieving the loss of a loved one, it is anything but "the most wonderful time of the year." It's possible that you're feeling more irritable and shut down than Scrooge and the Grinch combined. While others seem to be surrounded by love and joy, grievers often feel paralyzed by their sorrow.
While there may be many reasons to feel stressed during the holidays (financial pressures, time constraints, family tensions, Seasonal Affective Disorder), grief brings its own brand of challenges to this season.
If you're grieving and are wondering how you'll survive the season, use the following six suggestions to ease the way.
Just Say "No" -- Although friends and family members may expect you to be the same this year, clearly you are not. This means you need to analyze your traditions and -- for this year, at least -- say "no" to anything that feels too overwhelming or painful. You may not want to put up a tree. You may be unable to send holiday cards. You may be completely unmotivated to bake your holiday cookies. You have permission to say "no, no, no" instead of "ho ho ho." Give yourself a break this year and only do things that provide some comfort.
That said, if you are a caregiver with the responsibility of bringing cheer to others (such as a grieving mother) ask for help, simplify your cooking and decoration expectations and rely on online shopping if it can ease the burden.
Breathe -- Never underestimate the calming power of a low, deep breath with a long, exhale. Taking a deep breath activates the parasympathetic nervous system (the calming device in our bodies). Try taking a deep breath every time you wash your hands. Thread your days with restorative breaths.
Let Yourself Grieve -- You're grieving, so let yourself feel the sadness. Grief is a process and must be honored. If you need to excuse yourself from family gatherings to have a cry in the bathroom, do so. Grief takes up energy and will leave you exhausted. Stifling the grief takes up even more energy and will leave you stressed and depleted, so let your pain find its expression and take time to rest. Be wary of those who suggest you need to "get over it" and move on.
Know That You're Not Alone -- Thousands, if not millions, of people are grieving every year and are missing the presence of their dear ones. Connect with others who understand, find a local grief support group and/or join an online support site (such as my "Transcending Loss" site on Facebook).
Donate in Their Honor -- Consider shopping for and donating a gift in memory of your beloved one who is physically gone. Hospitals, shelters, schools, libraries and charities would be grateful for gifts in honor of your loved one. Part of the process of transcending loss is nurturing in your heart your ever-present relationship with your loved one.
Keep Connected to Your Loved One -- Don't be afraid to share memories of your loved one (even if it provokes tears). Sharing memories is a healthy way to keep an ongoing connection with your loved one. You can also light a candle at the holiday table in their honor, put a new and unique ornament on the tree in their honor, or keep a keep a cherished photograph in a special place for the holidays.
If you have a friend or loved one who is grieving this season and you are unsure of what to say to or do for them you might find the following articles helpful: "How to Console a Griever During the Holidays" and "What Not to Say to a Griever (And What You Should Say or Do Instead)"
With these healthy grieving habits, I wish you a little more peace on earth.
For more by Ashley Davis Bush, LCSW, click here.
For more on death and dying, click here.