The holidays are downright difficult if you’re experiencing grief. Festive adverts and decorations are everywhere, making it feel like the whole world is merry and bright, apart from you. Then you have holiday gatherings with family and friends, where you feel like you’re expected to eat, drink and be merry. Except merry is the last thing you’re feeling, and the happy festive cheer is doing nothing but making the ache in your heart worse.
If the holidays have you feeling raw, or you wish you could just ignore them this year, here are ten things to help take care of your needs and ease the pain of the holidays a little.
Acknowledge that this year is different. Thinking that you’ll do everything you always do at this time of year puts you under a lot of pressure. Now is a good time to think about which traditions truly hold a lot of meaning for you, and which ones you want or need to let go of. Which leads us to….
Create new traditions. There’s no rule that says you must keep your old traditions, especially if they hurt. If you need permission to create new ones that feel better, here it is. Or maybe it’s time to tweak your existing traditions so they fit better with how you feel right now. If you always went to the beach with your loved ones the day after Christmas, you can keep up the healing waters tradition with a day at the spa. Many will have great sales over the holidays, so take advantage! Check in with your Core Values and align as much as you can with them. What feels good to you?
Create rituals to honour your loved ones. Rituals are a beautiful way to connect with your loved ones, and remind yourself that love never dies. The energy and love that linked you with them is still here, and when you tune into it, you honour and remember them. I love honouring my loved ones by lighting a candle. You can cook and eat their favourite meal, go to their favourite restaurant or coffee house, or enjoy a glass of their favourite wine. Or, if they always donated to food drives or helped out at a soup kitchen during the holidays, continue that tradition in their honour. Giving your time, talents, and skills to help others feels fantastic. It’s one of my go-to strategies when I’m feeling down.
If you’re finding it hard not being able to buy and give your loved one a gift this year, buying something in their honour and donating it to a charity is a beautiful ritual that provides a beautiful Christmas for someone else in need.
Create space. Grief is circular yet our calendar is linear. That means grief will show up when it needs to, not when it’s convenient. Sometimes that means showing up at the most inopportune times (i.e. the office christmas party when ‘All I Want For Christmas Is You’ comes on and you remember how you used to reenact your favourite scenes from Love Actually together.) You might not always know when grief will surface, but knowing that certain times are “hot zones” gives you the chance to ramp up your self-care. Give yourself permission to say no to party invitations if you’re not feeling up to it. It’s ok to say no to having visitors if all you want to do is create a blanket fort and watch Love Actually alone with a Costco-sized bucket of caramel popcorn.
Let yourself feel. Emotions are likely to be heightened during the holidays and you’ll often feel a wide range of things within a small time frame. You might swing from exquisite joy and happiness to extreme sadness and loss in a half hour. Or you might feel all those things at the same time. It’s all ok, I promise you. You can feel joy and grief, happiness and sadness, in the exact same moment.
My one caveat for dealing with your feelings around the holidays is this: Don’t stuff them down or judge them as bad or wrong. Instead, take a moment to acknowledge and label them (say gently to yourself “I’m feeling lonely” or “I’m sad today” or “I’m actually really happy all of a sudden”.) Then, let your body do whatever it needs to do to process them (cry, scream, run, leap, whatever), and then let them go as quickly as they came in. Kind of like storm clouds passing in the sky.
And if you find that those storm clouds aren’t moving, then talk to a friend or your therapist or coach. Try a restorative yoga class, or grab a cup of tea and journal about it, or switch on the music and dance your heart out. Make space to do whatever comforts you best.
Set some boundaries. It’s worth repeating – you don’t have to accept every invitation. Focus on pleasing yourself vs. pleasing others or worrying about what they’ll think if you don’t show up to their party. Also know you can change your mind and decide to go last minute if you’re feeling up for it. Just be sure to check in with your intention. If it’s out of Fear, Obligation, or Guilt (FOG), think twice before heading out the door. But if your intention is to connect and nourish relationships with those you love, then slap on your party dress!
Control what you can. It feels like a lot of things are out of your control over the holidays. You can’t stop the radio or TV playing Christmas songs that remind you of your loved one. You can’t help overhearing others talk about their plans with their parents (or even complain about spending time with their families when you’d trade everything to have your loved one back so you could spend the holidays with them again.) So, control what you can. Give yourself permission to do all your shopping online this year, or not put up the tree if you don’t want to. Above all, breathe through the discomfort of hearing others get excited for the holidays, and put extra focus on your self-care knowing the season won’t last forever, even if it feels like it right now.
Ask for help. Talk to your loved ones or reach out to online or local support groups. You’re definitely NOT alone in this, so find your tribe and ask for some support through the holidays. Remember that people love to help those they care about and actually might be at a loss wondering how to help you. Let them know what you really need most right now. Asking for support can be hard, I know, but your loved ones are anxious for the chance to be there for you, and your tired heart will thank you. So let them love you.
Plan, plan, plan. Christmas itself may only last a day but the anguish and anxiety can be present for months beforehand. So, plan it out as best you can. Figure out what you need to do, and what you can leave for now. If you’re giving gifts, decide on the gifts and your budget in advance. If you know you won’t want to do much on the day, get some easy, healthy food in the house so you can nourish your body. Make your space beautiful and comforting ahead of time. If you decide to go to any kind of event or gathering, don’t rely on others to drive you. Make your own plans so you have an out if it proves to be overwhelming.
Be open to the possibility of feeling good. We often default to the worst case scenario when we’re dreading something. It’s completely understandable to feel such despair or heaviness at the mere thought of celebrating Christmas (or whatever holiday you normally celebrate.) But grief can surrender into moments of joy and celebration too, and it’s so healing if you can open up your heart and mind to that possibility. So set aside time to try out some of the suggestions in step three.
Give yourself permission to be happy. Feeling joy and celebrating the holidays isn’t selfish or weird if you’re grieving. Love and happiness connect us to one another and to our deceased loved ones. Sometimes that looks like letting yourself practice self-care and self-soothing until joy peeks through again when it feels lacking. But however you open to and express it, the core of it all is love, and isn’t that what the holidays are all about?