How to Handle Grief During the Holidays
November 28, 2016
by Mankato Clinic
The holidays are a time for giving, creating memories with loved ones and, for a lot of people, a time for grieving.
Whether you are reminiscing on your life spent with someone who passed away years ago, or someone who recently passed, it’s common to dread the holidays knowing so much has changed and realizing the past can’t be recreated.
The death of a loved one is always traumatic, but during the holidays when emotions are already amplified, the feelings of loss can be even more pronounced. Alternately, there can also be comforting traditions that you spend with family and friends, focusing on good memories and trying to recapture your sense of joy.
No two people grieve the same way, though there are some tips that can help get you, or someone you know, through this especially difficult time.
- As a family, or by yourself, decide if you want to keep certain holiday traditions or create new ones. In addition, plan in advance how you want to spend your time and with whom you spend it. A good tradition to begin may be to do something to honor the memory of your loved one.
- Each person has to grieve in his or her own way; knowing that, allow yourself to feel pain and any other emotions that come along. It’s OK to express your feelings and let yourself cry.
- Eat well, exercise regularly and get healthy sleep, and avoid excess alcohol.
- When thinking about your loved one, forgive yourself for all the things you did or didn’t say or do. Try to limit “what if’s.”
- It’s very important to work through your grief, but it doesn’t need to be a main focus all of the time. Creating mind/body/heart balance through meaningful self care is wise.
- Plan ahead. Often times, anticipation is worse than the actual holiday. To help yourself get ready, create comforting activities in the weeks approaching a holiday so that you have something new to look forward to. Whether it’s a new activity or a familiar tradition, do what feels best to you.
- Open up to those around you by surrounding yourself with a support system. Talk about your loss and your memories with your loved one. Don’t be afraid to ask others for what you need. Don’t protect your family and friends by not expressing your sadness; they want to help you!
It’s understandable to feel more intense loss or grief around the holidays, but it’s important to recognize if bereavement has evolved into depression that may require professional help.
Symptoms of depression may include:
- Persistent thoughts of being worthless or feelings of hopelessness
- Inability to perform day-to-day activities
- Significant changes in appetite and/or sleep patterns
- Severe and prolonged anger, sadness or depression
- Intense guilt over things done or not done at the time of loved one’s death
- Breaking off ties with friends or family
- Flashbacks, nightmares or memories that continue to intrude into thoughts
- Continued disbelief in the death of the loved one or inability to accept it
- Thoughts of death or suicide