Practical Tips for Managing Your Grief During the Holidays

This time of year is filled with cheer, that is, unless you are grieving for a loved one. Holidays can be more painful than other days throughout the year. Although you may feel the pain is unbearable, trust that you can and will survive them. Here are some practical tips for managing your grief during the holidays.

  • You may find it helpful to write a letter to your loved one. Tell them what you are thinking; that you miss them, how much you love them. You might even share what you are experiencing, both the pain and joy since their departure. Use a journal to write your love letter.
  • Think about the upcoming holiday. You may have traditions with your loved one. Do you want to carry on that same tradition? Do you want to start a new one – possibly in your loved one’s honor. Or does it make more sense to combine the old traditions with new ones? Consider involving others who participated in those traditions. Ask for their input. Remember, you are not meant to grieve alone.
  • Now that you have thought about the special day, take some time to write down what you would like to do. Having a plan in place helps reduce fears and anxiety. It gives you something to look forward to instead of telling yourself it is going to be a horrible day. A plan helps to refocus your mindset.
  • No is a complete sentence. You can tell others you do not want to attend a family gathering, festivities or participate in events. Give yourself permission to say no. You do not owe an explanation. Practice saying no to requests.
  • If you decided to attend a gathering, keep the option open to leave at any time. It may be helpful to have a friend with you who will help you. Think about who you would like to have go to gatherings with you. Ask them to be that special support person at a party. Agree on a code word or phrase that signals you are ready to go – no questions asked. It is simply time to leave.
  • To ease your heartache, ease the heartache of others. Consider volunteering your time to others in need: a local charity, homeless shelter, food bank, Volunteers of America, library, or the neighborhood 5K for cancer, diabetes, or Alzheimer’s. Donate your time to answering phones for a community non-profits fundraiser or greet guests at church. The list of opportunities to help others is endless.
  • My son’s legacy is “Room for one more!” Consider expanding your gatherings to include others who may be alone, grieving or without the financial means to have a holiday meal. This act has expanded with my family and more and more people are included in our “family” gatherings – which no longer are just blood relatives. Over the years, friends of friends have become our new family.
  • If these feel difficult, you can help others in simple acts of kindness. You could open the door, let someone in line before you, smile at another person, offer a sincere compliment, or pay it forward at the local coffee shop. Churches and other local organizations collect toys. You could purchase toys and drop them off.

While it may seem unimaginable to volunteer or include someone in your gatherings, it really is a mood booster. The mere act of connecting and being in community with others helps you and helps others. The brain produces dopamine, oxytocin, and serotonin which are the feel-good hormones responsible for boosting and improving mood.

I want to leave you with a simple thought.

Deep grief is like being frozen in time. While your life has come to a standstill, others continue to march on. When you are standing, unable to move, think or feel anything but heartache, you may not be able to imagine you could ever find yourself smiling, laughing, and enjoying life again. I can assure you that I have stood in that same cold, icy place yet have been able to move forward. May this bring you hope.

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