Managing Grief and Loss During the Holidays

Getting through the holidays unscathed

Posted Dec 17, 2015

None of us escapes life without suffering a loss—whether in the form of the death of parents or friends, a miscarriage, the end of a relationship, or even the loss of a much-beloved pet. The sting of grief can be especially painful around the holidays, when memories of bygone times and the stress of managing finances and family gripes when you're grieving can just be too much. Many of us feel pressure to be happy during the holidays, but all of us face holiday seasons during which we are distinctly unhappy. There's no shame in feeling the way you feel, but you might still need a little extra help to get through this allegedly magical time.

Rethink Your Traditions

Traditions are a funny thing. On the one hand, they can serve as a source of comfort during difficult times. If you're feeling alone or aggrieved, gathering around the fire with friends and family can give you a bit of relief from near-constant misery. But some traditions can feel utterly terrible when you're coping with a loss. Perhaps you just can't face Christmas morning without your mother, or maybe watching “It's a Wonderful Life” without your spouse feels weird.

Times of grief are a good time to re-evaluate your traditions. Replace the painful ones with new traditions, since this can keep your mind off of your grief. But don't negate the value of indulging in a few old favorites, especially if they help the holidays feel like something worth celebrating.

Stay Busy

Grief is exhausting, and if you feel inclined to spend the entire season on the couch binge-watching Netflix shows, it's understandable. Laziness can feel good in the moment, particularly when you can't stop crying or feel overwhelmed by the prospect of getting dressed. Inevitably, though, going out and doing something you enjoy—even if you have to force yourself—can enliven your spirits. Commit to leaving the house, even if it's just to go to the grocery store or to read at a coffee shop, at least once a day. Then plan a bigger event, such as going to the symphony or a movie, at least once a week. Stick to this commitment, and you might find yourself enjoying a few brief moments of this otherwise painful season.

Practice Good Self-Care

When you're in pain, your subconscious mind encourages you to make choices that worsen the pain, such as drinking, binging on unhealthy food, and not getting enough sleep. Self-care is the conscious act of tending to your needs. When you're feeling miserable, try the following strategies to feel a bit better:

-Drink a glass of water.
-Take a nap, but for no longer than 40 minutes.
-Eat a healthy meal rich in protein and low in sugar.
-Call someone you love.
-Do something nice for yourself—even if it's just buying a movie on Amazon.
-Take 10 deep breaths, taking care to breathe into your stomach, not your chest.

Our minds and bodies are inextricably linked, and by taking care of your body, you can also tend to the unpleasant emotions swirling about in your brain.

Ask for What You Need

People can be strange about grief. They often want to help, but don't know what to do, so they say things like, “Let me know if you need anything.” Don't ignore these offers! You cannot expect that loved ones will magically intuit what you need. After all, everyone deals with grief in their own way; some want to be alone, while others want to be surrounded by love and excitement. The people you love the most cannot offer you the help you need if you do not tell them what that help looks like. If someone asks what they can do, tell them what you need—but be prepared for a no, since everyone has limits, and those limits don't mean you are unloved.

Spend Time With Supportive Loved Ones

For most of us, family denotes the people we were raised with or live with. But, particularly at the holidays, sometimes those people behave in ways that are anything but loving. Take stock of your relationships, then protect yourself. Spend time with loved ones who support you and make you feel good—even if they are not blood relatives. You'll cut back on your stress, and have a much better shot at getting the supportive, loving care you deserve.