The holidays are a stressful time under normal circumstances, but can become especially difficult when grieving the loss of a loved one or facing other kinds of loss. Learn 8 ways you can celebrate the beauty of the season while mourning a loss.
Expectations can create anxiety
Holidays in times past were “holy days,” days which had special meaning, reminding us of our sacred origins and offering a hopeful vision of the future. Today’s holidays are filled with expectations--ours and others--of joyful times of celebration and cheer, remembering all that is good in our lives and in our relationships. But 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:
- How will I ever get through the holidays?
- How can I celebrate this holiday without my loved one? It’ll never be the same as before.
- How do I honor the holiday spirit while also honoring my needs at this time in life?
- How can I endure all the dinners, parties, and get-togethers when I just want to be alone?
- I know I have many blessings, but how can I be thankful at a time like this?
Learn what is right for you
It’s important to know there is no right or wrong way to grieve during the holidays, but there is a way that will work for you. You have some control over this at a time when many things feel beyond your control. What can you do to celebrate the season, even while mourning your loss? Here are a few suggestions:
- Keep expectations for the holiday season manageable. Try to set reasonable goals. Think ahead. Make a list and prioritize the important activities. Pace yourself. Be realistic about what you can and cannot do. No holiday is perfect. Give yourself permission to be less than perfect as well.
- Balance need to socialize with need for solitude. Save some time for yourself and your interior life. “Recharge your batteries” while others share some of the responsibilities. Delegate – don’t become a martyr!
- Honor your grief. Find ways to give it expression. Create new rituals, perhaps at dinnertime, to remember and honor loved ones. There is a place in this season for your feelings of sadness or loss. Accept that these are normal, healthy and natural. Doing so will unburden you and allow you to more fully engage in the truly joyous moments of holiday celebration and fun.
- Remember to keep moving, and then rest. Exercise is a great stress reliever and can be good fun. Rest will help you gather strength.
- Beware of overeating and excessive drinking. Although the temptations and opportunities are great, eat and drink moderately, savoring every bite and sip.
- Life brings changes. Each season of life is different and can be enjoyed in its own way. Leave “yesteryear” in the past and look to the future. Don’t set yourself up for disappointment by comparing today with the “good ol’ days.”
- Look beyond yourself and do something for someone else. Reach out compassionately to others. Try volunteering some time to help others in need. Make new friends or reestablish contact with old ones. Share your gifts with the world’s needs.
- Rediscover meaning and purpose this holiday season. Pay attention to your faith life and your need for spiritual nourishment and refreshment.
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 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.