Holidays are often difficult for anyone who has experienced the death of a loved one, as well as for other types of loss: someone going through a divorce or separation, facing a terminal illness, or a recent job loss. Rather than being a time of togetherness and celebration, the holidays can bring feelings of sadness, loss, and emptiness.
Sometimes all we can do during difficult times is to find moments of comfort to pull us through and to remind ourselves that these emotions will eventually pass and the situation will not be like this forever.
Here are a few tips that may help you to heal through the holiday season:
Create a plan for yourself about what events you might like to attend and what people, sights, or smells might trigger memories of your loved ones or past times. Having a plan for yourself helps to mitigate anxiety about how things might go and helps you to feel in control of what you are part of this holiday season. If you feel overwhelmed with emotion, have a quick outlet (e.g. excusing yourself to the washroom) to allow yourself some space to ground and calm yourself. Be gentle with yourself and give yourself permission to decline certain invites to parties or other events.
Be gentle with yourself
Skip or minimize the decorations if they are too much this year. If you’re exhausted and don’t feel like cooking a big meal, ask someone else to cook, or allow yourself to take a break for the year and maybe have a “Chinese-take out” or “oven-pizza” Christmas. If you can, try to find moments to enjoy yourself and laugh at the simple things.
Focus on what you can control
It can be extremely painful to hear what feels like is the rest of the world, excited and joyful about the holiday season. Try to do things that lessen your heartache and stress at this time and remind yourself that it is okay for others to be excited to celebrate this time of year.
Continuing traditions can be a source of both happiness and pain. Be honest about what traditions you would like to continue and which ones you don’t want to participate in. Be mindful of how there might be differences between family members and do your best to respect where everyone is at.
If you have lost a loved one to death, continuing special traditions that remind you of a loved one can be a great way to honor and remember their legacy as the years continue on. Talking about and sharing stories of your loved one can help you to feel connected to them and invites others to recognize how important this person is to you.
For other types of loss, you may want to consider starting a new tradition with the loved ones around you. Sometimes starting something new can bring hope for the future and new beginnings.
Reflect on your life
Loss can teach us how to live. Often if forces us to take an inventory of our lives as we reflect on what brings meaning and purpose to our lives. Define the positive things in your life, write down what you’re grateful for (even if it is small things), and reflect on what you want for yourself moving forward.
Taking time to get outside and get some fresh air. Even a short walk outside can help boost your energy and help you to feel better mentally. If you can, do something enjoyable, like going skiing for the day, this is a great way to get out of your head and get lost in something enjoyable.
It takes a Tribe
You cannot heal in isolation. As much as you may prefer to just sit in the dark and avoid seeing anyone throughout the holidays, it is important to make time to connect with friends and relatives. Surround yourself with people who will listen to your pain without judgement and who will encourage you to express yourself and acknowledge your feelings – even if they are bad feelings. Balance this with down time for yourself to recharge and rest. “Keeping busy” won’t distract you from your grief so it is important to also create space where you can grieve and feel what you’re feeling.
Grief changes us, and the reality is, time is not what heals. Healing requires us to be vulnerable with ourselves, to feel, to allow ourselves to be human, and to open our hearts to the beauty around us. My wish for you in the New Year is that you will be gentle with yourselves and others and that you open your heart to experience more love.
Katrina Shaw, M.A., R.Psych.
Fong Ailon Psychologists