Creating Health and Healing During the Holidays for Grief Management
Wishing someone a polite “Happy Holidays” is a well-intentioned seasonal greeting. However, for those who have experienced loss, the greeting—and the holidays in general—are painful reminders of their grief and the past memories they may be reliving. For someone who is feeling unhappy (due to their circumstances, grief, anxiety, and/or depression), these pleasantries can place a heavy emphasis on the cheerfulness or joy that they see as “missing” for them during the holiday season.
If you or someone you know is not having a happy holiday, there is hope. Understanding grief and managing this process is a vital part of surviving season’s greetings.
The holidays are often associated with quality time with family and loved ones. Past memories and experiences shared with loved ones can cause feelings of pain, hurt, sadness, and anger to surface. Many of the festivities and celebrations during the holiday season serve as reminders of loss, especially in what is traditionally a joyous time.
With the weather becoming colder, the emotional and financial stress of the holidays, the complexities of family dynamics, and an increase in social engagements, people tend to experience higher amounts of stress, depression, and anxiety, which can be even more tumultuous for people coping with grief and trauma.
Although there are generally acknowledged stages of grief (denial/disbelief, fear, anger, depression, and acceptance), the process is unique to each individual depending on their unique circumstances.
Grief can be better understood when identified as four distinct types including:
- Bereavement, the state of mourning after the loss of a loved one;
- Loss, which can include any type of loss (e.g., financial loss, the loss of a home or relationship);
- Acute grief, which is experienced immediately after a loss or the death of a loved one; and
- Complicated grief, a syndrome that happens when one’s ability to move through the grieving process is impeded by various factors.
Grief can also manifest itself physically, causing symptoms such as a lowered immune system, heart and cardiovascular issues, fatigue, and sleep disruption.
So how can someone tell if they should seek help? If you or a loved one experience continuous pain or sadness that does not go away, sustained isolation, obsessive thoughts regarding a loved one, suicidal thoughts, or if the grief interferes with daily life, professional consultation and/or treatment is recommended.
There are a few common practices recommended by licensed therapists to help guide you through the healing process:
Be honest with yourself and allow yourself to feel. Give yourself permission to express your emotions. If you feel the urge to cry, cry. It is not necessary to repress emotions or “normalize” yourself during the holidays. Choose to participate in only those holiday events that you feel up to and give yourself permission to opt out of festivities.
Celebrate new traditions. Family rituals are at the heart of the holiday season, but for those experiencing loss, these traditions can bring new waves of sadness and fatigue. Experts suggest making room for change and letting go of or altering traditions that are painful. Celebrating a new ritual can set boundaries that can allow you to be both mindful of your grief and create tangible reminders of your loved ones.
Scale back on responsibility for the moment. In the midst of loss, it can be tempting to delve into obligations too soon during the grieving process. Make time for yourself and avoid taking on new responsibilities. It is okay to put down the phone and enjoy things like movies or reading. Taking time to absorb the full meaning of the loss is critical to the coping process and the ultimate act of self-care.
Seek out assistance. Everyone deals with grief differently and seeking assistance is a normal response to the overwhelming emotions associated with grief. By relying on a support system, you can grieve in a healthy way and in a safe environment without judgment. You can join a support group, lean on family and friends, or seek professional help to filter through the complexities of coping with the pain, fear, guilt, and anxieties associated with loss.
Plan ahead for the holiday celebrations. Select which holiday parties or events to attend and which ones to decline. Creating a plan can bring a sense of security and comfort and reduce feelings of being overwhelmed. You may want to spend the holiday nights with family or friends for physical proximity, comfort, or support.
The holiday season can be a tough time for those adjusting to the loss of a loved one and understanding grief as a natural process can go a long way to acceptance and healing. There is no one right way to grieve but with the use of your support system, self-care practices, and understanding, there is hope in the healing for a happier holiday season.
Silver State Health is an associated provider with the Vegas Strong Resiliency Center and can be reached at 702-471-0420. You can learn about upcoming outreach events regarding health and healing during the holidays on the VSRC Calendar page, including “TRY Class: Self Care & Coping Are Coming Town” on December 12 and “Holiday Health” on December 16.