Elisa Pearmain MA LMHC
Coping with Grief, Loss and Stress at the Holidays
by Elisa Pearmain
The holiday season is upon us once again. If we are experiencing challenges or losses or challenges in our lives, this can be an especially difficult time. Here are some ideas for managing grief and practicing self-care during the holiday season.
This is a very important time to stay healthy. Get plenty of rest, eat well, drink lots of water, sleep well, and take your medications. Avoid alcohol and drugs, or keep them to a minimum. You'll feel better. Grief and healing require a great deal of physical and psychic energy. Take care of yourself. At this dark time of year try to get outdoors without sunglasses for at least 20 minutes a day to get the benefits of natural light. Honor your grieving and that it takes energy to process.
Many people feel a sense of dread as the holidays approach. Many people start to feel more depressed or anxious many weeks before the holidays. Discuss your fears and disappointments related to the holidays with your therapist or a trusted friend. It is important to keep reminding yourself that the holidays are just a few individual days. Days last only 24 hours and then they are over. You can make it through 24 hours. It also helps to make a plan as far in advance as possible for what you will do on the actual holidays. Make sure that you are with people with whom you can be yourself and feel no pressure. You may need to cry, and it must be ok to do so. Gather support around you. If you will be alone, plan a phone call with a trusted person.
Don't do things because you think you should. Explain to people that this year you need to take it easy and there may be some things that you are just not up to.
Delegate responsibility: Let someone else shop, cook and address envelopes. Don't send holiday cards this year. Don't give gifts.
Shop over the phone: Give people creative gifts this year such as a favoirte poem, photograph or a hug.
Decide to skip the holidays altogether if it is easier for you.
Having a structure or plan can take the fear of worrying about how you will get through it. Include activities that are pleasurable and relaxing, such as:
Play music that you love or listen to a radio station.
Listen to meditation CDs.
Rent a stack of funny and engaging movies.
Go for a walk out of doors. Take a luxurious bath. Practice yoga with a DVD from the library.
Paint, write poetry, or read a favorite story or inspirational book.
Cook your favorite foods.
Find out what support groups meet on holidays. AA/NA alcothons, religious organizations, mental health support services, and hospices often organize meetings and activities. You don't have to be alone. If you are alone, please remember that there are many, many other people who are alone on the holidays too. Join with them in your heart.
Take time to remember loved ones who have died by creating new rituals, including storytelling rituals:
1) Ask each person to bring and share a favorite memory about a person.
2) Create a gift box for the person who is no longer there and have each person
put something into it, such as a favorite memory, a prayer, or poem.
3) Make a place for that person at the table and talk about what they used to
bring to, or loved about, that holiday. Or make a place card for them and put it
by their picture nearby the table or on the table.
4) Let any children involved decide on creative ways that they want to include the
lost loved one in a holiday. Children often know how to satisfy their
needs. One child for instance had family members write letters to a
Grandmother who had recently died, and then they instructed each person to
burn them in the fireplace so they would reach her in heaven.
5) Look at pictures of the loved one and let them lead into stories.
6) Assemble a memory book relating to the loved one with your relatives and give
them out as presents, or assemble them together from each person's
contribution. (This might be easier the second or third year.)
7) If it is too painful for people to tell stories out loud at first, have a silent time for
each person to think of their loved one. This may become a tradition!
8) Read or tell stories or poems that your loved one found especially inspiring and
comforting. That way their voices will continue to contribute to your lives.
Explore the spiritual and or religious aspects of the holidays and seasonal changes and let the commercial ones go this year. Honor the winter solstice and light extra holiday lights or candles in your home to offset the darkness. Turn off or down the TV during holiday commercials.
Make a list every night of all the little and big things you can be grateful for with a focus on different things each day. Gratitude and peace will grow in your heart.
Repeat often this loving kindness prayer:
May I be safe.
May I be healthy.
May I be happy.
May I live with ease of heart with whatever comes my way.
Now extend this out to all those whom you love.
Then send it out to all those you have ever known.
Then send it out to all those who might be sad or alone on the holidays.
Imagine them sending it back to you.
Peace be with you. Elisa