Finding Holiday Joy Amidst Grief

When The Holidays Don’t Feel Merry

Holidays are often difficult for anyone who has experienced a severe change, such as the loss of a job, a divorce, a child’s leaving home for college, or worse—the death of a loved one.  Rather than representing times of family togetherness, joy and thanksgiving, holidays can evoke feelings of sadness, loss and emptiness.

Research refers to this phenomenon as “anniversary reactions,” or “holiday effects.” But we don’t have to face the holidays in pain. Here’s a list of helpful hints to help us find the joy again in our holidays.

Accept the Sadness
If we can accept that a healthy, normal life comes with a full range of emotional experiences, then we reduce the fear and hatred of normal unhappiness and grief. We should allow ourselves to have those emotions rather than try to push them away. “It’s important to let yourself cry when you need to,” according to “You have to experience the sadness to get past it.”

Plan AheadSince getting caught off guard can create feelings of panic, fear and anxiety during the holidays, structure your holiday time.  This will help you anticipate activities, rather than just react to whatever happens.

Understand Your Physical Limits
Feelings of sadness or loss are likely to leave you feeling tired and exhausted. Respect what your body is telling you and don’t over-commit this holiday season.

Be With Supportive, Comforting People
Identify the people who understand your situation, encourage you to be yourself and allow you to talk freely about your feelings.

Honor Your Loved One
It’s OK to talk about your loved one and set aside some time to honor them. Telling stories about a loved one you lost is one of the best ways to cope with a sense of loss. You could also honor them by lighting a special candle in their honor, serving a special dish that was their favorite, watching their favorite movie together or visiting the cemetery together. There are many ways to connect with that person.

Practice Mindfulness
With the onset of holiday- and anniversary-related surges in grief, anxiety, and withdrawal, you can turn to meditation, deep breathing, exercise or massage to put yourself in the present.

Transform Old Traditions
Often old traditions are no longer feasible. Be creative. Come up with ways to make a new tradition to fit your new situation. You might watch Christmas movies together. If you always celebrated the holiday meal at the home of the loved one you lost, you might decide to move your big holiday meal to a favorite restaurant instead. Focus on finding ways to celebrate and don’t worry that they break all the traditional norms.

Let Go of Perfectionism
Nothing is ever perfect; so, don’t set unrealistic expectations of perfection.  Let go of the Norman Rockwell picture in your head and try being spontaneous! This will allow you to be in the moment and enjoy whatever happens.

Plan Exit Strategy
If you begin to feel overwhelmed during a holiday gathering, have an exit strategy so that you don’t feel trapped. You might elect to walk off some of the extra calories or go in a room and lie down.

Put yourself first during the holidays
Well-meaning friends and family often try to dictate what is right for you during the holidays. Instead of going along with their plans, focus on what you want to do.  Find a caring, trusted friend in whom you can confide and find support.
As you approach the holidays, keep in mind that grief is both necessary and normal. Be patient with yourself.  Allow yourself to be surrounded by loving, caring people. But most of all, love yourself!

If you find that the holidays are just too unbearable, you might be experiencing depression. Please call the professionals at Clay Behavioral Health Center at (904) 291-5561 for help today.

“The risk of love is loss, and the price of loss is grief – But the pain of grief is only a shadow when compared with the pain of never risking love.”  ~Hilary Stanton Zunin


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