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HOLIDAY GRIEF: A TIME OF INCONGRUENCE

We are approaching the time of year when those who are grieving often say they just want to go to sleep and wake up when it's over. In other words, the holiday season is so difficult to navigate while grieving that we simply want to wish away the twinkling lights, holiday songs in the background, or strong suggestions of family togetherness. And yet, it is impossible to escape.

There is something jarring about the incongruence between what's happening all around you and what you feel inside. This incongruence can be disorienting, exhausting or flat out irritating. We begin this time as Thanksgiving approaches and continue past the celebration of the new year, sometimes into February when Valentine's Day occurs.

So, it seems appropriate to offer some suggestions for moving through this time with a little less stress and an increased ability to tolerate, if not even somewhat appreciate the seasonal cheer.

 

Here are 6 ways to help yourself during the holiday season:

  1. Plan Ahead - Instead of giving in to the temptation of holiday avoidance, try planning now for how you are going to get through the next few months with greatest ease. Think about the people with whom you feel the most comfortable and able to just be yourself, let down your armor and do what you need to do for yourself. These are the people you should surround yourself with this holiday season.
     

  2. Prioritize - Think about each holiday and what parts of that day or celebration are most important for you. What is it on that day that is truly the essence of the day for you? In other words, if you didn't have turkey on Thanksgiving could it still be Thanksgiving for you? If there are other members of your family to be included in these decisions, have this conversation and ask each person what they need. Once the needed elements have been determined, eliminate those parts that are not important, giving you some relief.
     

  3. Evaluate New and Old Traditions - Take some time to consider your family traditions around each holiday. What traditions to you want to include this year? Are there some traditions that just seem too painful to include this year? It's OK to decide to skip them. Maybe next year you will want to bring that tradition back or maybe you won't. Remember that traditions are about what is meaningful for you and your family. When the meaning is gone or even overshadowed by something else there is no need to go through empty or painful motions. Perhaps you want to create some new ritual to include a way of remembering your loved one. Check out our "25 Ways to Honor Your Loved One," for ideas.
     

  4. Ask for Help - Friends and family often offer to help those who are grieving, but have no idea what kind of help is needed. There are numerous ways you can engage people in helping you through the season. Sending off all those dreaded holiday cards? Invite your friend to share coffee/tea (maybe even some wine.. we're not judging) as you complete this task. If decorating, baking, and shopping are deemed absolutely necessary, don't do it alone. It can be hard to ask for help, but remember how good it feels when you are able to help those in need. Give others the opportunity to share in the rewards of feeling helpful.
     

  5. Take Breaks - Take frequent breaks from your holiday tasks and events--far more often than you might have under normal conditions. Engage in something that is not holiday focused. Allow yourself to move in and out of this season; at least emotionally.
     

  6. Nurture Yourself - Grief combined with the energy you are using to cope with the season will often equal physical exhaustion. Be sure to "refill" yourself with rest, quiet time, and activities that are life-giving for you. In fact, now is the time to make a list of those for yourself so to reference when stressful times come along. List things such as leisure reading, taking a walk, a bubble bath, hiking, massage, listening to music, going to a movie, coloring, going for a drive in the country, etc. Engaging in these activities frequently during the holiday season will help keep you balanced. You may also find it helpful to participate in a special support group or session with your therapist focused on grieving during the holidays.

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Copyright 2012 The Austin Center for Grief & Loss
www.austingrief.org