Grieving During the Holidays – 5 Survival Strategies

Posted by on Nov 6, 2017 in Blog | 0 comments

Grieving During the Holidays – 5 Survival Strategies
Grieving During the Holidays: 5 Easy Survival Strategies by Dr. Jenn Matheson, PhD, LMFT The holidays can be a time of warmth and celebration, full of hustle and bustle. But sometimes it feels as though the world forgets that there are people in it who are not in the mood to celebrate anything. Sound familiar?  If so, you are not alone.  Many people wish they could just go to sleep and wake up when the season is over. Feelings like this can be strongest when you are struggling with grief over losing someone or something you loved deeply. If you are one of the many people this holiday season who feel that a black cloud of grief is hanging over their head, here are five tips for managing during the holidays that can help ensure you stay grounded and together.
  1. Turn off the TV. It doesn’t matter whether you are just checking the local news or sitting through the latest knock out round of The Voice, you are going to be bombarded by cheer-filled holiday commercials until January 2nd. To avoid them, opt to go online for your news or consider using your DVR to record all your shows. Then fast-forward through all commercials, limiting your exposure to unnecessary holiday happiness aimed at softening your heart in the hopes you will spend money; something you don’t really want to do anyway.
  2. Limit Parties. First of all, don’t commit to throwing a party if you are not up to it. No one expects you to throw a party when you are grieving. Second, if you feel that you cannot avoid all of the holiday parties to which you’ve been invited, pick just one. Choose the one with people who know you well enough to know that this time of year is really hard for you. Alternatively, pick one that is very toned down and casual so it doesn’t seem too “over the top celebratory” and the pressure to be cheerful is less. Third, attend the party for a short time. Arrive a little late and leave a little early. Busy yourself during the party by engaging in conversations about other people’s lives. Distractions like these can provide welcomed relief.
  3. Avoid excessive alcohol and drug use. Generally speaking, numbing the pain of grief with substances is not a healthy coping strategy. Unfortunately, much of the holiday season includes opportunities and pressure for heavy drinking, which seems counterintuitive because alcohol is a depressant. It’s true that in small quantities alcohol can act as a social lubricant for some people. However, for you in your grief, it’s likely to bring you down even lower. Plus, you will wake up the following morning feeling more depressed because alcohol, which is treated by the body as a toxin, ensures that you’ll have to detox your way through the next day (what we know as a hangover). This makes the grieving process more complicated and uncomfortable. So, skip the spike in the punch and take it easy on all other mind-altering substances too.
  4. Join a support group. Believe it or not, not everyone is celebrating this time of year. There are so many other people in your situation right now. To connect with others, you can start by checking out your local Hospice, like Pathways Hospice in Fort Collins, to see if they have a support group for grievers during the holidays.  The benefit of this is you’ll be surrounded by people like you who are struggling to get through every day and perhaps especially while being bombarded by messages of cheer.  If Hospice doesn’t feel like the right fit, do an internet search for local or online grieving support groups in your area. Being with people who are also grieving can lessen feelings of isolation and provide a huge support network during such a difficult period.
  5. Try Writing. Have you ever experienced the healing qualities of writing? Experts tell us that expressing our emotions and thoughts is helpful to working through difficult experiences in life; the death of a loved one or the loss of a career included. When we write, we process our thoughts and feelings on our own time, in our own way, and without unwanted advice from others. To start, you can write a letter to the person you lost. While you know you’ll never send it and they’ll never receive it, the act of writing to them can help you get out some of the negative, difficult, and painful stuff that’s inside. It can also free you up to remember many happy, funny, and loving times. Writing also engages and accesses many parts of the brain, and experts have shown that the act of handwriting can increase creativity. This may help you find ways to express feelings you didn’t even realize you were experiencing -- about the boss who fired you, the home you had to move out of, or the pet who never left your side. After you write your letter you can choose how to proceed. Some people find it helpful to burn or destroy their letters. Others keep it in a secure place and read it again in months or years down the road to see how far they’ve come in their grief process.
The truth is that for most of us, we will get through this period of grief and come to see the joys in life again soon. However, if nothing seems to be working and your grief is significantly limiting your ability to function, consider seeing a therapist like those of us at Aspen Trauma Therapy Institute. We are here to listen, assess your symptoms, and help you manage so that you don’t just scrape by. In fact, you may even find that glimmer of hope for the future.

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