Coping With Grief During the Holidays

"To mourn is to openly acknowledge our feeings and experiences of grief, Actively mourning during the holidays can be a way of helping us cope" -Karla Helbert

Surviving the holiday season in the midst of grief when it feels like so many people are experiencing nothing but joy, warmth and love for weeks on end can exacerbate our own pain, grief and the shattered pieces of our hearts. For the people who are grieving, feeling depressed and/or anxious during the holiday season, it is important to remember that your emotional pain deserves the space it needs to be expressed and that space should not be taken away from you or repressed from those who do not understand.

During the holiday and winter season, m​any people feel lonely, sad, anxious, depressed and might even experience deep melancholy.​ Grief and depression during the holiday season, is often referred to as ‘the holiday blues’. The ‘holiday blues’ is a phenomenon commonly associated with stress, financial stress, fatigue, unrealistic expectations, over-commercialization, and the inability to be with one’s family and friends. ​Balancing the demands of shopping, parties, family obligations, and house guests may contribute to feelings of being overwhelmed and increased tension and could ultimately lead to built-up expectations and disappointments.

The American Psychological Association uncovered some data about the holiday blues through a survey they conducted which found the following statistics:
● While the majority of people in the survey reported feelings of ​happiness​, love, and high spirits over the holidays, those emotions were often accompanied by feelings of fatigue, stress, irritability, bloating, and sadness.
● Thirty-eight percent of people surveyed said their stress level increased during the holiday season. Participants listed the top stressors: lack of time, lack of money, commercialism, the pressures of gift-giving, and family gatherings.
● Surprisingly, 56 percent of respondents reported they experienced the most amount of stress at work. Only 29 percent experienced greater amounts of stress at home.

Other areas that have been identified with having grief during the holiday season is as follows:
➢ Not having enough of a support system during a season of spending time with loved ones and feeling lonely.
➢ Our experiences with death and loss of significant relationships related to this time of year.
➢ Sensing society's pressure to ‘Be Joyful’ ​and​ the high demand to spend a lot of money which can lead to more stress and anxiety!
➢ Past memories being triggered from when the holiday season was joyful.
➢ Financial hardship, or not feeling as if you have enough money to afford the season that is commonly associated with spending money on gifts for children, family members, friends, colleagues, etc which also will increase stress levels.
➢ The ‘winter blues’ also known as seasonal depression begins during late fall into winter season as daylight shortens and temperatures drop to freezing levels for much of the United States.

Simple Steps to Decrease the Holiday Blues
Although there is no avoiding the holidays, and there is no cure for grief, there are ways to cope with both the grief and anxiety that change brings and the increased amount of stress that the holidays bring for many. Acknowledge​ that the holidays will be different than before and that this may be difficult.

Self-care ​- Set those boundaries and be crystal clear about what you want to do and what you do not want to do during the holiday season. The holiday season is about giving but make sure to give time for yourself.
Remember​- Talk about your loved one whenever you feel like it and freely share memories, stories or cook their favorite dish. Doing this is apart of your healing process. Reshape Traditions​ by deciding if you want to create a new tradition for the holiday season. ​Think about how to ​reshape​ the traditions of the gaps left by your loved one's death or how to make this time of year more enjoyable for yourself.
Accept Help​ - The holidays are stressful. Allow yourself to be vulnerable if you need help. This will also give other people an opportunity to give help.
Enjoy​- If this time of year is associated with a loved one's death, try not to feel guilty if you are enjoying yourself during this time of year. You will not be disrespecting your loved one if you find joy in the holidays.
Find a Support Group​ - ​We know this is not an easy time of year, but remember, there is no right or wrong way to get through the ​holiday season​. A holiday support group will help you navigate the holiday season and manage your grief and loss. Clicke HERE to learn mor about the support groups offered at BCGC.
Hit the Outdoors or the Gym​ - With the right gear to stay warm and reduce slipping on snow, taking a walk outside when the weather is colder can be invigorating for the body and the mind. Have access to a gym? Even walking on a treadmill might help decrease the ‘winter blues’ and increase your endorphins.
Reframe your Thinking​ - Acknowledge that this time of year is stressful, overwhelming for many and not as joyful as society believes it to be. ​It’s OKAY to feel what you feel. If you don’t feel as happy as you think you should, don’t fight it.

More Ways to Manage the Holiday Season
● Scale back on social media usage and scale back on holiday commitments by identifying how refraining from social media and holiday commitments will be beneficial for your mental health!
● Expect that you will feel extra vulnerable at this time and be patient with yourself.
● Expect that those around you will try to cheer you up or leave you to deal with the grief in your own space. Don’t be afraid to reach out to others when you need to talk about your feelings about the loss or why the holiday season is difficult to experience.
● Allow yourself to cry if you feel the tears coming on and know that while you have periodic bursts of intense sadness, you will feel better over time.

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