For many of us, holiday time presents special challenges.With images of joy, fun, and happy families everywhere, it can feel incompatible with any kind of traumatic loss. Perhaps a family member has died, a relationship has ended, or you find yourself in other unimaginably challenging circumstances. Instead of being ready to celebrate, we can feel more like hiding.
You Are Not Alone
Despite the commercials on TV, not everyone is happily enjoying the holiday season every minute. There are mixed feelings for most people, relating to losses, memories, worries, and realizations.
It’s Not Only Happiness or Sadness
These mixed feelings mean we can hold seemingly opposing feelings at the same time. There’s a part of me that is so sad my son can’t be at our holiday table, and there’s another part of me that delights in the joy of my grandchildren. We can grieve our losses at the same time we’re grateful for our blessings. They coexist without cancelling one another out.
It’s a Day; not the Day
Our culture puts a lot of emphasis on celebrating the holidays. You may not be ready to make a decision about how to spend a particular day and pressure to do so may increase your stress. Give yourself a break – it’s okay to modify, postpone, or otherwise revise former traditions. Try something different and then see how it feels; you’ll adjust future plans from there. This is how we adapt to new realities.
When life hurts, it’s hard to get out of our own pain. Sometimes the best way to cope at holiday time is to do something meaningful for others. Ideas include serving food at a shelter; visiting nursing home residents; bringing treats to those who have to work (police, firefighters, hospital staff, etc.); donating toys to a children’s hospital. You can probably think of many other possibilities. The important thing is to make a positive difference to someone else, which helps you feel warm inside.
Navigating the holiday season requires a certain amount of energy, even in the best of circumstances. Add on layers of stress, grief, or any kind of extra coping needs, and you may end up feeling depleted. Take time to identify what is personally replenishing for you and schedule it into the days ahead. Examples include quiet time with a best friend, taking a bubble bath, working out, getting a massage or facial, hot tea and a good book, or watching an old favorite movie by a cozy fire. The possibilities are endless; you get to choose.
How are you marking this year's holiday season? Please reply below in the comments. However you spend the coming weeks, try to give yourself messages of compassion and acceptance. I’m here if you need additional non-judgmental support.
Wishing you health and peace,
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Essays on Grief Resilience