Our last Holiday Heartfelt Moment is a guest post by Kim Openo. Many thanks to Kim for sharing some tips with those who may be having a difficult time with grief during the holidays.
Tips for Handling Holiday Grief
By Kim Openo LAPC CMFT NCC DCC North Pines Center, Norcross GA
I will never forget my first holiday in 1997 after losing a pregnancy at 20 weeks. My pain was still quite raw since my daughter’s due date was 9 weeks before Christmas. I was 27 years old and still not accustomed to self-care; so I put on a happy face and tried to enjoy the holidays. I paid dearly later in depression and panic attacks that seemed to come from nowhere. If I could do it again a different way, I would have made my apologies to family & friends and grieved in a way that was appropriate for me.
So many of my clients discuss with me how the holidays are more than a difficulty due to grief or trauma. However, they insist on putting up the tree, going to the parties, continuing traditions that are now painful or making things perfect for everyone else; but meanwhile they describe feelings of intense pain like “dying inside”.
Is there a better way than pretending when trying to get through a painful holiday season? Absolutely. Here are some helpful tips:
- PREPARE yourself & accept that things will not be the same. This holiday season cannot be the same as before your grief event. Know that sadness will be a part of this season and that time will help for each coming year.
- SOCIALIZE with limits. Do not isolate yourself, but realize that you are allowed to come late and leave early. Community and friends are a good way to combat the sadness for short amounts of time.
- BUILD new traditions. This is simply a method to ease the pressure to keep everything the same as before. And it will give you a way to socialize without paralyzing memories.
- LOWER your expectations of yourself and of the holidays. Hollywood tends to romanticize the holidays, but they can be stressful even under happier circumstances.
- EMPHASIZE taking care of yourself. Stress & sadness are hard enough, so when one’s body and mind are run-down also, it is a terrible combination. Move your body, eat healthfully, and get the sleep that you need.
- SET boundaries for yourself. Don’t let expectations from others dictate how YOU should spend your holiday, especially if it is the first one after a significant loss. Know your limits to what you can handle to let family and friends ahead of time, if possible.
- DO NOT numb the pain with substances. Using drugs or alcohol will only help with escaping the pain temporarily & often presents a new problem to manage down the road.
- DEVELOP a coping strategy, such as a friend who is a good listener or a group forum such as grief.com. However, if you find yourself beyond needing a shoulder to lean on, consider seeking a mental health professional specializing in grief support for validation and assistance. Often short-term individual counseling or a group for those in grief can help with feelings of isolation or loneliness. Make a commitment to yourself to get help if the pain becomes too much to deal with alone.
Always remember that if you are thinking of harming yourself due to your grief being too great, there is immediate live help available from trained volunteers at 1-800-273-TALK or by chat at www.imalive.org or www.crisischat.org.