Coping with Grief and Loss During the Holidays
By: Jamie Prisco-Rudolph, M.A., LPC-C
Edmond Family Counseling
Dealing with feelings of grief and loss at any time during the year can be difficult. Common symptoms of grief and loss include lack of energy, changes in sleep patterns and eating habits, lack of focus, and feelings of numbness, shock, fear, and anxiety. These symptoms vary from person to person. It has been theorized that there are certain times out of the year where grief may be harder to deal with than others. These times of the year include birthdays, anniversaries, and the holidays.
Coping with grief and loss can mean different things for everyone. Commonly, ideas of grief and loss relate to coming to terms with the death of a loved one. However, grief and loss can cover a variety of topics that center around the idea of a significant change. Some examples of these changes include changing careers, moving to a new state, or ending a relationship or friendship. Regardless of the type of change someone is going through, there are some common tasks of mourning to help cope with feelings of loss. These tasks can be accomplished at your own pace. Just like the stages of grief, the tasks of mourning are fluid and may change from time to time depending on your level of stress or the type of events that are taking place in your life. The four tasks of mourning are:
Task 1: Accept the reality of the loss: Think of how your life is different because of the loss or significant change. How has the loss or change impacted you emotionally, physically, and mentally?
Task 2: Process the pain of grief: Some common emotions related to grief and loss include sadness, anger, and guilt. While it can be tempting to avoid these difficult emotions, take some time to identify them when you notice them and work to start processing through them.
Task 3: Adjusting: Consider both internal and external changes you have had to make due to the loss or change.
Task 4: Honoring the past while moving forward: When processing a recent change in your life, it is important to find a balance between discovering ways to cherish the memories of the past and moving forward with your own life.
Feelings of grief and loss can increase during the holidays. This increase comes from pressure to continue past traditions and to spend quality time with family members and friends. In order to cope with the elevated feelings of grief, there are a few things that can be done to acknowledge and accept these feelings and help to set boundaries with others to decrease the feelings of pressure from outside sources. When thinking about holiday plans, here are a few things to consider:
- Plan and stay informed about events you have been asked to attend: When asked to attend an event, there are some questions to consider such as how long the event will last, who has been invited, and if you are expected to bring something. By knowing these details ahead of time, you can decrease your feelings of anxiety about attending or ultimately make the decision to not attend if the event seems too overwhelming for you.
- Accept your limitations and don’t let others determine what you need to do or should do: With the holidays comes expectations and pressures to celebrate a certain way. Allowing yourself to decide what you want to do and what tasks are not enjoyable for you currently is one way to feel more in control of the situation.
- Ask for help: Asking for help can be hard to do, but sometimes, it can help take some of the stress away. If you are uncomfortable asking for help when it comes to your emotions, think of some concrete ways to ask for help instead. Some ways people can help during times of stress include running errands with you, helping clean around the house, cooking meals, or helping with childcare.
- Find time to rest: Celebrating holidays can be mentally, physically, and emotionally draining even if you are not dealing with symptoms of grief. Make sure you are setting aside time to practice self-care strategies such as getting enough sleep, making sure to eat, and taking time to perform relaxing coping skills such as reading or journaling.
- Find ways to remember past traditions: There may be some elements from past family traditions that you like to continue. If you are working to honor the death of a loved one, consider setting a place for them at the table for the holiday meal or have members of the family write down their favorite memories and share them together. If you have recently moved and are spending time away from your family, consider making a dish that was always part of the meal back home or set up decorations that include pictures of your loved ones.
- Honor different feelings and ideas created by the significant change: After the holidays are over, take some time to reflect on how traditions have changed. What did you like about how you chose to celebrate? What are some things that you could do differently next year? During this reflection time, think of your old traditions and how they can blend with the new traditions you started this year.
The holidays can be a stressful and difficult time for a variety of reasons. Remember to acknowledge the good and bad emotions during the holidays and celebrate in ways that make you feel comfortable!
Jamie Prisco-Rudolph, M.A., LPR-C is a staff therapist and Intern Coordinator at Edmond Family Counseling. To schedule an appointment with one of our licensed professional counselors at Edmond Family Counseling call 405-341-3554.