In an ideal world, the holidays are a time for togetherness. A time for relaxing with loved ones, laughing, enjoying each other’s company, and feeling happy. And while many of us are fortunate enough to have this experience, it’s not the case for everyone.
Sadly, grief and loss can come at any time, even during a season known for joy. And when you’re dealing with grief at a time when everyone else seems to be happy, it can make life feel all the more difficult and isolating.
In this guide, we’ll go over some tips and strategies to help you navigate your grief during the holidays, ensuring you have the tools you need to get through the season and come out stronger and happier on the other side. Whether you’re dealing with a recent loss this holiday season or are reminded of someone you lost at this time of year long ago, you don’t need to go through it by yourself.
Don’t Pressure Yourself to Feel A Certain Way
In a sense, the holidays are a unique time to be feeling the emotions of grief. You might feel certain expectations from the world around you to participate—to laugh, eat, and be merry. These expectations might come from people around you (or they may feel like they do), but they may also be completely internal. Try to temper the voice in your head that tells you that you’re ‘wasting the holidays’ or going about the festivities in the ‘wrong’ way.
In general, offer yourself the grace and the empathy you’d give to your best friend, your partner, or a family member. You’d never suggest that they’re somehow wrong for choosing to sit out a holiday party in the wake of a loss, so remember to extend yourself the same kindness and understanding.
With that said, the opposite can also be true. Perhaps you wake up one morning and decide that, in spite of everything, you’d like to go to the party and get your mind off things. Don’t let yourself feel any guilt for moments like these. They can be a great way to distract yourself from painful emotions, reconnect with people you care for, and remind yourself that you’re loved by those around you.
Be Patient as Grief Takes Its Course
No two people experience grief the same way. Some of us cry endlessly, while others may find they’re unable to shed a single tear. Some of us feel off-balance and actively in the process of grief for months, while others can begin to make peace and move forward within a few weeks. One day you may feel at peace and ease for a moment, and then the next thing you know, you’re in tears.
These are all valid responses to loss. It’s important to know that no matter what shape your grief takes, it’s vital that you keep the word ‘patience’ at the top of your mind.
There is no deadline for grief. There’s no one single thing you can do to stop the powerful emotions and big, existential questions that so often accompany loss. Allow yourself to take all the time you need to work through your grief, no matter how long it takes.
Practice Self-Care and Protect Your Health
The little things can make a big difference when dealing with something as serious as a personal loss. Try to work out the little things you can do for yourself each day to try and work self-care into your routine. Whether it’s a tasty treat that always hits the spot, a quiet day to yourself, a night on the town with friends, or time dedicated to that creative hobby you never have the time for, the habit of self-care can be a big help when navigating grief. Try to push away feelings of guilt—you deserve these moments of reprieve as you come to terms with your loss.
Going hand-in-hand with self-care is your personal health. The holiday seasons are already known for colds and flus going around, and a physical illness is the last thing you need when you’re having a hard time. Add on the fact that grief itself can actually lower your immune response and make you more susceptible to sickness, and you see why trying to stay healthy is such a good idea. Do your best to eat enough healthy food each day, stay hydrated, and get plenty of sleep. Your mind and body will thank you.
Try Not to Isolate Yourself
Though it’s completely understandable to decide you’re not feeling up to a holiday dinner or a big party, do your best to keep in touch with at least a couple of trusted people who can support you. Isolation is a common instinct for many people going through grief. And while time alone is very important as a way to reset and recharge, it can also lead to a cycle of deeper and deeper isolation.
It may feel like no one could understand what you’re going through. And while grief is unique to us all, it’s also a universal emotion, and another person’s perspective may help in an unexpected way. Try to let people in, even if it’s just one or two close friends who check in on you from time to time.
Get Support from a Mental Health Professional
If you’re feeling overwhelmed by grief, especially at a difficult time like the holidays, it can be a great help to get support from a specialist. Counsellors, therapists, and other mental health professionals have knowledge and experience of grief that can offer insight into your mental health. They may also be able to direct you to resources or suggest coping strategies to help make the process a little easier.
If you’re searching for a psychotherapist or counsellor in the Greater Toronto Area to help you navigate your grief this holiday season, our staff at Hopewoods are ready to listen. With extensive experience in supporting and guiding people through grief of all kinds, we’re here to listen, support, and help you heal from the loss you’ve suffered.