Strategies for Navigating Holidays With Grief or Loss

By Rev. Nancy Faery, MDIV, BCC-HPCC, Niagara Hospice Spiritual Director

   Coping with the holidays when you are experiencing grief, loss, depression, S.A.D. (seasonal affective disorder) or estrangement in your life can be very challenging. There are unwritten cultural norms, expectations and media bombarding us from every direction that say, “It’s the time of the year to be happy." 

   Many expectations come from outside of us, however there is often the internal critical voice that tells us to do what might not be comfortable for us at the time. Many of us want to please others so as to not hurt anyone’s feelings.

   We may be invited to a function that we simply don’t feel like attending.  It is important to listen to and own your real feelings. Letting go of the expectations may be disappointing to others. It is important to remember that someone else’s feelings are not about you. What is about you is your own self-care.

   Taking care of yourself during the holidays is crucial for your wellbeing. What works for you may be very different for someone else. Begin by letting go of any judgement you may have about what you should or should not be doing especially during the holidays, but really anytime.

   Self-care begins with setting boundaries to protect, love and respect ourselves. Acknowledging our feelings whatever they are will eventually bring you more peace. Pushing down feelings only makes them rumble around inside, then erupt like a volcano at a later time.

   Here are a few coping techniques can work:

  • Have a plan

  • Say “no thank you” to an invitation that you aren’t feeling up to attending

  • Find things that are pleasurable for you

  • Acknowledge your grief, loss or sadness

  • Acknowledge, respect your needs for connection, to be alone or a combination

  • If you are so inclined, go to places that don’t close on holidays:

    • A body of water

    • The Falls at Niagara

    • A nature trail

  • Spend time with animals or indoor plants

  • Only watch a Hallmark-type show or movie if it makes your happy. If such films put you into “I wish my life was like that” mood, then forget it!

  • Put together a basket with things that put a smile on your face. Some suggestions might be:

    • Something silly

    • Magazines you’ve meant to read

    • Adult coloring books

    • A kaleidoscope, yo-yo or fidget spinner

    • Journal

    • Music

    • A candle

   Give yourself permission to experience the holidays in ways that are uniquely YOU at this time in your life. Nothing is permanent and change is the only constant in our lives. Tomorrow will be another day, unique in its own way, just like you.

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