Healthy Ways to Navigate Grief During The Holidays
The holiday season is not always merry and bright. Sometimes it can feel downright awful. Especially for those experiencing grief. Not just in the loss of a loved one, it could be a divorce or the loss of a job or pet. Maybe this is your first holiday without your kids or your parents. It’s normal to feel apprehensive about the days ahead. Unfortunately, there is no roadmap for getting through your grief. There are, however, tips and tricks used by millions before you that can help you navigate the holiday season.
Identify Coping Skills
Grief is a complicated emotion and it’s hard to know what will trigger it. You can prepare for certain events and situations but often the unexpected moments take your breath away. As we approach the time of merriment it’s a good idea to identify a couple of coping skills you can turn to when grief hits you unexpectedly.
The best coping skills are the ones that work for you! But all coping skills work better when you practice using them. Below are 7 coping skills that help you connect in the tough moments that leave you less than cheery this holiday season.
- Be Clear About Boundaries
You are not required to participate in anything. It is okay to say you need time and space. You do not need to be present if you don’t want to. Too often we experience pressure to attend family gatherings, holiday parties, or yearly outings. Although this may come from a place of love, you get to decide what is okay for you.
Before you say yes to any holiday gathering, sit with it. Do a couple of deep breaths as you mentally see yourself at this event. Feel what you feel. Connect to your readiness for such an occasion. Then you can commit or decline from a place central to your needs.
Balance is the key. Jumping into all the activities could be good for you, but so could sitting out on one or two. Don’t push yourself and acknowledge that this season will have tough moments and that you will survive them all.
- Honor and Create New Traditions
Consider how to handle certain roles ahead of time. Filling the empty space left by a loved one can trigger grief. You can avoid these moments by preparing for how they will be handled. This can be extremely helpful, especially if children are involved. If Dad always lit the tree or cut the turkey, come prepared with new traditions to fill that now empty role. Creating new roles for yourself and others to help honor and fill a hole can be both healing and powerful. It’s a great way to remember traditions that once were and adapt to new beginnings in a celebratory way.
Keep in mind that creating new memories doesn’t replace old memories. Acknowledge any feelings of guilt that arise in the process of assigning roles or switching up your routine. It’s okay for your feelings to be felt as you process the passage of tradition.
They say that the quickest way to lift your mood is by helping another. When we take our attention off of our own grief and sadness by lightening the load of another, we are lifted by that act. There are hundreds of ways to volunteer and lots of organizations looking for support.
Check in with your local service clubs, churches, retirement homes, and soup kitchens.
You may even find it so healing that the volunteering continues past the holiday season.
- Gifts in Memory Of
One of the more challenging things about grief is that everyone grieves differently. This can make for some hard dynamics. Family events might seem disjointed and forced and it’s not your responsibility to make others feel comfortable.
As you make space for your own grief, you must allow others to find their way through their own.
One way to invite everyone together is through gifts that honor your loss. It’s a great way to say I understand and love you without forcing anyone into anything they are not ready for. Making a memorial ornament or donating to the deceased’s favorite charity for the family members is a great token of recognition. Something as simple as serving their favorite dish can unite a family as you struggle to figure out the new normal.
- Look for Gratitude
No one should be asking you to have it all together, and no one should expect you to not feel angry, upset, or frustrated by your grief. When you’re in grief it’s important to feel what you feel. Identify the emotions. Allow them to be there. This in itself is a form of gratitude. Taking time to acknowledge yourself and your feelings is huge! And something to express gratitude about. Use this as a launchpad into discovering all there is to be grateful for in this process.
I had a client who recently lost her brother. A friend of hers lost his brother 8 years ago. He told her that he was jealous of her grief because it was so new and raw and rich. That he missed feeling all the emotions of grief. Even though life seemed impossible while he was grieving he was grateful for his ability to feel love for his brother so deeply.
Gratitude comes in many forms. Seek it where you can and hold it to add wonder to this challenging time.
- Find Your Breath
Connecting to your breath can be one of the most empowering things you can do while grieving. There are a ton of ways to start connecting to a deeper breath:
- Going for a walk
Breathing practices can be done in as little as 3-5 minutes and can be used to help you release tension from your body.
Here’s a simple one you can do anytime you are feeling overwhelmed and need to calm your nerves:
- Find a comfortable seat (or in your car, or in the supermarket line).
- Place a hand over your abdomen and one on your heart (if not driving).
- Allow your belly to gently inflate as you inhale through your nose.
- Hold for a moment at the top to notice your nice full round belly.
- Exhale gently through your mouth while making a drawn-out “SSSHHHHHHHH” sound. (like air leaking out of a tire)
- Repeat 5-10 times.
In Chinese medicine, grief is housed in our lungs. You can begin to release the pain associated with grief by healing your lungs. This is done through conscious breathing practices like the one listed above.
- Take Time For Yourself
This is the time to practice self-care. Your loving family and friends have their own grief issues and can only support you so far. Grief is often a road we walk alone. This doesn’t mean hide it away or bury it inside– it means you must find a way to build a life around it. Like planting a garden, you allow room for growth. Taking time for yourself to process is a big part of moving through uncertainty. Consider…
- Taking your grief for a walk
- Treating your grief to a bath
- Visiting your grief in a photo album or home video
The trick is to allow grief to be there without consuming you. Refer often to the breath practice here or find one that works for you. I have a Breathing Through Grief meditation on my YouTube channel and many other breathing practices to choose from. Explore the best practices for you, so you have that toolbox built.
Just as you allow happiness to flow into your life, allow grief to do the same. It’s okay to openly grieve and let others know this is a challenging time for you. Be kind to yourself this holiday and turn towards your breath to help the emotions pass through with ease.
If you are interested in joining me this coming Sunday at St. Matthews Church in the Renton Highlands, I will be leading, along with Pastor Kacey Hahn, our Breathing Through Grief workshop. In this 90-minute session, we will explore what it means to grieve through the holidays.
I would love to hear from you and know what works for you when you feel overwhelmed by grief. And if you need a nonpartisan voice to listen to please contact the 24-hour crisis hotline at 206-461-3222
In closing, remember you are not alone. When grief is shared we find that many are dealing with their own set of grievances and together we can find a light to carry us through.