The rush of celebrating the holidays with family and friends can be an emotionally apprehensive time of year. Feelings can range from joyfulness, thoughtful celebration, anxiety and even deep pain and grief. The article below particularly addresses those who are grieving during the holidays, but the suggestions about self-care are great reminders for all of us who get too easily caught up in the expectations of our loved ones this time of year. As you take time to pay attention to your emotional well-being, I hope you will find a measure of joy and peace this holiday season.
Dealing with Grief at the Holidays
For those experiencing sorrow, whether through death, separation, divorce, illness, job loss or relocation, the glittering commercialism and unrelenting cheer of the holiday season can be stressful. Facing Thanksgiving Day and Christmas with an empty chair at the table can make unbearable grief so much worse, says Karen Silbert, MD, Associate Professor of Anesthesiology at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, who suffered the loss of her five-month-old daughter. Many people believe that anyone who has experienced great loss should be “over it” in six months or so. If only that were true. Emotions of the recently bereaved are terribly raw. It can be difficult for them to cope in social situations during the holidays, when tears would be out of place, Silbert says. At holiday time, many who are dealing with loss are often caught in a dilemma between the need to grieve and the pressure to “get into the spirit” of the season.
Even more than that, the holidays can actually trigger renewed feeling feelings of new or renewed grief. Special events and traditions can stimulate memories and bring a new wave of pain, which feels even more pronounced. And it’s not just the end of the year holidays that can be difficult. Birthdays, anniversaries and other special occasions often present challenges to grieving, even after a number of years have passed. Though the experience of grief may ebb and flow, we should not expect it to altogether disappear, say grief counselors and experts. While it’s normal to hurt during the holidays. it’s also possible for the human heart to hope and heal.
Here are some suggestions from grief expert Dr. Judith Johnson to help the bereaved maintain a sense of balance during the holidays.
- Reach out to friends, family, clergy and anyone who can give you comfort and solace during this difficult time.
- Pay attention and be deeply honest with yourself about what you need to do and not do through the holidays or other significant occasions. Be patient, kind and compassionate with yourself about what is true for you.
- Take loving care of yourself. Grief expresses itself in many ways. Give yourself permission to feel lethargic, grumpy or out of sorts. Stay focused on what is happening inside you and tend to yourself as you would anyone else you love deeply.
- Anticipate and plan ahead. “Don’t wait for others to make plans for you that may or may not have anything at all to do with what you really need,” Dr. Johnson said. “Face your truth and communicate what you need.”
- Make room for your grief or sadness. “Grief is a very private matter and the holidays have a way of magnifying it,” Dr. Johnson counsels. “Welcome your grief. Your sadness and tears are expressions of the healing process.” Be the time and space to be open to your grief during the busy holidays… and trust that it is healing.
Author’s content used under license, © Claire Communications
Whether you are anxious about managing the emotional obstacles of the holidays or grieving a deep loss, sometimes it takes more work than you’re able to do on your own. We want you to know that you don’t have to live in a place where you feel unable to move forward or face the upcoming holidays. If you’d like to meet with one of our EMDR certified therapists, you can make an appointment by calling 818-681-6627.