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Loss can profoundly affect how you experience the holidays.
Loss can profoundly affect how you experience the holidays.
Photo by Leigh Anne McConnaughey via Flickr Creative Commons. Image has been cropped and resized.

Five Ways to Cope with Grief During the Holidays


Holidays can be hell if the preceding year involved loss and upheaval. Grief is like a fish knife to the gut. It’s messy, jagged, takes a long time to heal, and leaves you scrambling to try and stuff everything back
in before you lose control of the situation. As the demand to act cheerful escalates to borderline tyrannical levels this time of year, it can leave individuals whose lives haven’t been merry and bright feel overwhelmed by alienation and social pressure rather than an inclination toward peace on earth and goodwill toward men.

“Practice self care” has become something of an empty call to arms, too broad to mean much of anything and often commercialized to sell products over peace of mind. There exists, however, some well-established strategies for healing while the world around you projects a joyful front. This article is not intended to provide medical advice, of course, but it will hopefully provide some possible steps that you can take into consideration as you move forward.

Include a Lost Loved One

Holiday traditions might seem an empty experience if your grief involves the loss of a beloved friend or family member. Cherished games and meals and activities you once enjoyed together might now inspire anxiety
and sadness instead of eager anticipation. Find some thoughtful and personal ways to incorporate the memory of those missing from the festivities to ease a little loneliness. Placing a photo of the missing loved one nearby is a common method of establishing a sense of inclusion; some people may even find comfort
in bringing traditions to the gravesite of the deceased. It can’t replicate your memories, of course, but it can help nurture a degree of peace and closure during a distressing time of year.  

Start a New Tradition

Sometimes, keeping up with old traditions just doesn’t feel appropriate without the lost person or pet or home. Rather than creating a new normal with old routines, it might prove more gratifying to begin a new holiday tradition from scratch. Depending on your comfort levels, you could start something that also includes memories of a lost home or loved one. Set up a small area of your home in a way that reminds you of previous holidays. Visit the deceased’s favorite restaurants or watch movies or play games you used to enjoy together at different times of the year. Setting up patterns and routines is a common comfort for individuals grappling with grief.

Enter Therapy

Instead of making a New Year’s resolution to begin therapy at some point, invest in seeing a therapist now. There’s no need to wait on an arbitrary date to get started. A therapist provides a personalized plan for healing, and certainly knows the healthiest strategies for navigating the holidays in a haze of grief.

Here in Houston, mental health services suitable for most budgets may be found at Legacy Community Health, the Department of Psychology at University of Houston, and the Houston Galveston Institute. If you survived the hospitalization and passing of a loved one, many facilities offer free and low-cost services for family members. People whose health insurance covers counseling and therapy can work with their providers to find a suitable professional.

In the event you are experiencing suicidal ideations because of your grief, please phone the free, confidential National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. Operators are available 24/7.

Slow Down

The holiday rush of events can be overwhelming even when your heart hasn’t been extracted with a giant ice cream scoop. Exhaustion often irritates the grieving process, denying you the space better applied toward
healing. Slacken the pace of the holidays as much as possible and budget your energy toward a focus on working past the grief. Leave parties early and head home for a quieter activity. Avoid scheduling too many obligations in a day. Buy something at the store for the potluck instead of cooking. Take whichever
steps you need to have time to work on your pain little by little. This advice doesn’t necessarily work for people who prefer to immerse themselves in a flurry of sights and sounds and socializing, of course!

Opt Out Entirely

Some people heal from grief in the company of others. Some people prefer solitude. Others switch between the two. If you don’t feel like celebrating the holidays this year, then don’t. Your emotional well-being
should take a higher priority over placating friends and family. Showing up to events that will only pop open painful memories runs the risk of hurting you and them both. Never guilt trip yourself into a situation that may compromise your ability to recover. You determine your own boundaries and comfort levels, not your friends, family, or coworkers. Working with a therapist will likely go far in finding the right balance between healthy and not-so-healthy avoidance, though.

Everyone heals from grief at their own speed, and in their own personal way. Not every tip listed here will necessarily resonate with all the individuals and families suffering the pain of loss this holiday season.
However, nobody mourning where they once celebrated should feel like their emotions are insurmountable.

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