The holidays are normally considered a time for family, traditions, and cheer. But for those who have lost a loved one, feelings of sadness, emptiness, and grief may be reignited during this time as you remember old traditions, activities, and memories from past holidays.
Grief can make the holidays very difficult, especially if this is the first time you are spending a holiday without your loved one. However, it is important to find a balance between grieving and allowing yourself to experience some of the holiday joy that you’ve always felt before. Here are a few tips for coping with loss during the holiday season.
Understand the Grieving Process
While grief is a very painful emotion--especially during the holidays--know that it is part of the normal healing process. Without grieving first, we wouldn’t be able to move through life after losing someone.
It is important to recognize that death is a part of life, and grief is the body’s natural response to this loss. You may not realize it yet, but experiencing this pain will help you grow and feel better in the future. Accept your grief and allow yourself to feel sad – it’s completely natural.
Avoid Unhealthy Coping Mechanisms
The holidays are full of temptations, including large amounts of alcohol and unhealthy foods served at parties and dinners. It’s common to want to numb grief with alcohol, but you should avoid doing so. Turning to alcohol to avoid the pain will make the grieving process longer and more difficult.
The same goes for overeating as a coping mechanism--while it may seem like a harmless short-term indulgence, this can grow into a habit that makes things harder on yourself in the long run.
Instead, try these healthy coping methods:
Exercise regularly - This boosts your metabolism and causes your body to release endorphins which help create a positive feeling.
Eat a healthy diet - The right foods can help you feel energized and improve your mood.
Visit a therapist or counselor - A professional is trained to help someone in your exact situation.
Join a grief support group - Knowing you’re not alone and having peers with similar experiences will help you get through the tough times.
Take time for self-care - Reading a new book, taking a warm bath, or going on a nature walk are a few good ways to relax and decompress.
Set Realistic Boundaries
You may feel pressured to continue with the holiday season as though all were normal. And if you want to engage in your normal traditions and activities, you should go ahead without hesitation.
However, therapist Amy Morin says you should set realistic expectations for yourself. If you don’t feel like going to a gathering or buying gifts, don’t feel obligated to do so.
At the same time, try not to skip the holidays altogether. Truly make an effort to enjoy the season, but don’t force yourself to do things you don’t want to do. Listen to your intuition and do what feels comfortable.
Surround Yourself With Loved Ones
The holidays are a time for family, which is why it is such a difficult season when you’re missing a loved one. Having other loved ones around you can help you get through these celebrations.
Be sure to communicate with your family and friends--let them know if your plans are different this year, and share your feelings with them. They care about you and want you to be happy. And remember, they may be having similar emotions if they were also close to your loved one.
Sometimes, reminiscing together about stories and memories can be a great source of comfort. Gather at a familiar place and spend time together to help the healing process for yourself and anyone else who may be affected.
Start a New Tradition
If your old family tradition revolved around your deceased loved one, start a new one. For example, pick someone new to carve the turkey this year. Keeping a loved one’s tradition alive in new ways will pay homage to his or her legacy.
There is no right or wrong way to cope with loss. Be sure to surround yourself with people you love, and enjoy the season in your own way. After all, that’s what your loved one would have wanted.