The holidays are coming again. Before you know it, they'll be here.
There's an assumption that this is a joyful time of year. If you've suffered a loss, this is one of the hardest times of year. Most of the people I've worked with over the years find that no matter when their loss occurred, the spiral path of grief tends to circle back to very difficult emotions around the holidays. The holidays have taught me there are few straight lines in grief, and even fewer finish lines. The holidays can feel like a big setback.
Even though you may be having a very hard time now, there's nothing wrong with you because of it, and you're probably not moving backwards through your grief. The anticipation of memories can feel very intimidating, like a giant emotional buzzsaw waiting at the end of the year, spinning madly as you helplessly move closer into it.
The holidays are stressful under even ideal circumstances. In the context of grief, they can feel absolutely terrifying. There's not much you can do to skip them, so you might as well find a way to get through them as healthy as you can. Grief sometimes feels like a battlefield; the holidays are grief's bootcamp. The goal of getting through this time of year is to not only endure but to grow into a sense of resilience.
Here are six tips to help you make that happen:
1) The path of least resistance is to isolate and write off the day, as if pretending the holidays aren't happening will make them go away. This usually doesn't work. Try and make plans to be around supportive people, or at least go to supportive places, either in person or online. This may mean avoiding the mall. Make these plans in advance so you don't wake up on the morning of a holiday occasion with no idea what to do.
2) Manage the stress with exercise. The holidays are stress. Sometimes it's a good stress, but often in grief it's a really heavy, nasty stress. Burn off the stress with exercise. Walk, swim, get on a treadmill. Use whatever form of exercise you can use safely, but do something. Use your gym membership if you have one. The holidays are the one time of year it's really important to get into an exercise routine of at least 20-30 minutes, 3-4 times a week. This is the researched dose for emotional well-being. It takes a while to kick in, so get started now.
3) Manage the stress with nutrition. The holidays bring a host of potentially awful food choices. Fruitcake, cookie baskets, endless buckets of candy litter most work places. You don't have to eat this stuff cause it's there. Stress eating is a ticking time-bomb waiting to go off and devastate your health. Remember, the holidays are a stressful time of year, so the rules are different. It's very important to make healthier choices, not self-destructive ones. Comfort foods should help you feel resilient, not tired and cranky.
4) Manage the stress with meditation. Even if you don't meditate the rest of the year, it's so important to establish and maintain a meditation routine these final months of the year. Remember, the rules are different-- it's the holidays. You need to step up to the challenge by sitting down and watching your breath. Mindfulness can help keep you from being swallowed up by the pain to watching the pain. It's a subtle but huge difference, and well worth the effort.
5) Do not belittle or judge yourself for being in pain. The holidays bring back so many memories, so many wishes. This is natural. It happens to just about everyone this time of year. This pain may feel massive, so big and so intense that it can't possibly be normal. And yet it is. This suffering has been with us forever, and it will be with us forever. We are human beings, and thank goodness we feel hardship when we lose people we love. Grief often doesn't have stages, the holidays are clear reminders of this. Cry if you need to. Take long showers if you're around family, they can't hear you cry in there very easily.
6) Set goals for the coming year. What do you want to do after you get through the holidays? It can help to have something else to look forward to so you can be distracted from holiday pain.