Grief during the festive season
Here are some practical ideas to help you cope if this time of year is difficult for you. You may find some of these tips work, while others don’t. That’s okay – be gentle with yourself and do what feels best for you:
Honour your loved one
Rituals can help us to come to terms with loss and are a way to honour and respect our lost loved ones. From a psychological point of view, rituals are imbued with meaning and fulfil two essential functions: they help us to make sense of what has happened, and confront the reality of the loss.
Rituals and memorials are helpful for acknowledging the anniversary while also containing the emotional intensity of the event. Draw on your culture, family traditions, and religious or spiritual beliefs to guide you in the creation of a meaningful remembrance.
It may be particularly important to mark the memory of the person that has died by doing something special this year. This could be lighting a candle, listening to their favourite Christmas song or buying a new special decoration for the tree.
It may be comforting to set a new Christmas tradition to remember your loved one. You could discuss this with your family and agree on what feels appropriate, loving and meaningful.
Look after your body
Physical activity can help your brain to stay strong and happy. Exercise helps to strengthen the hippocampus, the part of your brain that is responsible for moods and emotions. Even a brisk ten-minute walk can be enough to lift your mood.
While alcohol often forms a part of people’s celebrations, using drink to get through the festive period or drowning your sorrows is not advisable. This may numb you but won’t actually help. Alcohol can make distressing memories more intense and disrupt your sleep so you are more tired and less able to cope. In the longer term, excessive alcohol is shown to damage mental health and physical health.
The Christmas period may mean that your normal routine is disrupted, and this can make it easier to forget to look after yourself. Trying to keep to regular patterns of sleeping and eating are small things that can make a difference.
Talk about your Feelings
Talking about your feelings of grief can help you to begin to come to terms with your loss. Another helpful way of expressing your grief is also to keep a journal and write about how you are feeling.
If the festive period gets too much, it is important to acknowledge this and to take some time out for yourself. Give yourself permission to not be okay and, equally, to have fun and smile. It’s important not to overwhelm yourself with situations where you may feel obliged to be cheerful. You may not feel ready to do all that is traditionally expected of you and so listen to what your body and mind are telling you.
If Christmas feels too difficult this year, then you can treat the day like any other ordinary day. Perhaps, plan a day doing some things for you.
It is important to work out what feels right for you at this time.