Grief, the Holidays, and Ways to Cope

Let’s be frank, the holidays are hard, especially if you are grieving the loss of a loved one.

For many, the holidays are a time spent with family and friends, sharing meals, and creating special moments and memories. The hustle, bustle and celebrations are difficult to manage and might even feel a little offensive. How can you possibly celebrate the joy of togetherness when your loved one is not with you?  Holiday details may serve to remind you of what you don’t have and the absence of your loved one intensifies feelings of loneliness and sadness, compounding the heaviness of grief.

Profound grief is an unfortunately common experience but everyone reacts differently to death. Sometimes grief looks a lot like major depression with frequent crying spells, loss of appetite and disrupted sleep. It is also common, and reasonable, to experience anxiety, regret, anger, and sadness as part of the grieving process. Remember, there is no right way to grieve and there is no “normal” time period for someone to grieve. Be aware of your emotions and physical reactions and understand that it may take a lot of effort to be around people without feeling overwhelmed. Feeling this way is acceptable.

So how do you make it through the holidays? The following strategies can help:

Be gentle with yourself and know this will be a difficult time.

Acknowledge there will be a lot of feelings and embrace all the emotions, including the happy ones. Don’t try to numb with alcohol or pretend the holiday doesn’t exist. Experiencing the many feelings of grief will help lead to healing. Also, make efforts towards practicing self-care like taking a walk and soaking in some sunshine.

Ask for what you need and plan ahead.

Be open and honest with family and friends about what you need. It is okay to do things differently and you don’t have to do what others think you “should” do. This might include attending gatherings, decorating, and participating in traditions. Let your loved ones know that your plans may need to change based on how you feel the day of an event. Sometimes the anxiety and anticipation leading up to the holiday can be more intense than the actual day. Planning ahead can help lower these anxious feelings.

Remember and celebrate the life of your loved one.

Light a candle, read a poem, share stories and memories. Choose to honor your loved one in a way that feels right to you. Also, don’t be afraid to create a new tradition or alter an old tradition to make them fit better with this new phase in your life.

Complicated grief and how Balance can help.

Most people gradually feel the characteristics of grief lessen over time and find they can begin resuming natural routines and activities. Some people, however, experience “complicated grief” which includes symptoms that feel unmanageable and debilitating. People with complicated grief experience long-lasting painful emotions and often feel “stuck” in the same intense pain felt in the days immediately after the death of a loved one. Certain kinds of mental health treatment have been shown to help people with complicated grief. Treatment is important because people with complicated grief are at risk for worsening emotional and mental illness. Professional therapy, coping skills, and when needed, medications can help.

If you’ve lost a loved one and think you may be experiencing complicated grief, call Balance Women’s Health at (405) 378-2727 for an appointment. Our providers can help determine if you have complicated grief or depression and help you decide what treatments are the right choice for helping you confront and accept your loss.