Coping with Grief During The Holidays
How I cope with grief during the holidays.
Around Christmastime, my grief goes into overdrive. It feels like every little thing reminds me of who I've lost, which is even more overwhelming than usual. Over the past few years, I have learned a bunch of coping skills that have helped me get through the holidays, and here are my favorites:
1. When you're feeling overwhelmed, take a step back.
For me, this means heading to a private corner or even the bathroom and spending a few minutes scrolling through my phone. This year, I plan on bringing headphones to my Christmas celebration so I can listen to a song that cheers me up whenever I get upset.
2. Let yourself be sad!
I know, this probably sounds counterproductive, especially if you're like me and just want to figure out how to have a happy holiday! When you suppress your emotions, though, they tend to only get stronger, and burst out at what feels like the worst possible time.
Whenever you're reminded of your grief or who you've lost, take a few minutes and sit in those emotions. Let yourself be sad, cry, do whatever you need to do! Just because you're feeling your emotions, though, doesn't mean that you have to sit in them forever. Afterwards, I recommend trying to find something to do that cheers you up - like watching a funny clip on YouTube or spending time with a family member that always makes you laugh.
3. Talk about how you're feeling.
People can't know how you're feeling unless you tell them. I know, it sucks, and things would be so much easier if everyone could read your mind, but people can't. Your loved ones may not realize how hard the holidays are for you or they may be feeling the exact same way and not know how to express it. Either way, it's worth it to reach out and talk about how grief feels right now and ask for support in the way you need it.
4. When you ask for support, be specific.
If I had a penny for every time someone told me that they wanted to support a grieving person but just didn't know how, I'd be rich.
Even though it may seem really obvious to us what we need and how we can be given support, it isn't always that obvious for other people. I've found that being more specific about what I need will cause more people to show up for me, because the problem wasn't motivation, it was that they didn't know how to be there for me.
Saying things like "can you ask me how I'm doing on Christmas because that'll be a hard day?" or "When you notice I look sad can you try to make me laugh so I can be distracted from my grief?" gives your loved ones specific instructions they can follow, so there's no question in what to do for you.
(Of course, there will be people who you try this with and who still don't show up for you. It's hard, I know, and while sometimes it's just that they need more time to figure it out, other people don't put the effort in. Don't let that discourage you, though! There are so many people out there who want to help you and support you.)
5. Plan something that you enjoy doing.
The way I was able to get through the first Christmas after my dad died was because I was in my room having fun redecorating and eating leftover stuffing. While that may not sound like fun to you, it was fun for me, and doing something I enjoyed made the day a lot easier.
While I'm sure many of you will enjoy your holiday celebrations, others won't, or will feel drained afterwards. During your holiday, try to incorporate plans that sound fun to you - whether it's a big thing, like going somewhere with your family, or a small thing, like watching an episode of a good television show.
6. Be easy on yourself.
It's okay if holidays this year aren't as good as they used to be. It's okay if you have big emotions and feel like you can't enjoy the celebrations.
I often push myself to enjoy holidays and ignore my grief, even though I know that is not the answer. I have such big expectations for myself, at times, and get disappointed when I get sad. But it's okay that I'm sad and I'm still grieving, even during the holidays.
Take it easy on yourself. Give yourself space to grieve and don't push yourself to ignore grief and pretend to be happy, if you aren't. Yes, try to enjoy the holidays if you can, but also know that it is okay if it's hard or if you can't. Grief takes time, and it's hard, and you don't have to pretend to be okay when you aren't.
Natalie Adams is the creator of Teenage Grief Sucks.