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How to Manage Grief During the Holiday Season

The close of the year tends to generate and unearth a lot of difficult feelings. Many people find that anxiety, depression, and traumatic memories are triggered around the holidays. People who are navigating the grief process are especially vulnerable to these mental health challenges.

Grief is defined as great suffering and sorrow in response to a loss.

The word “grief” is most commonly used in association with the death of a loved one. However, grieving can also take place in response to any major life change. This includes breakups and divorce, property damage from natural disasters, children moving away, getting laid off, and more. Regardless of what you’ve lost, your emotions are worthy of acknowledgement and care.

The grief process varies greatly from one person to another. However, there are many useful strategies that everyone can benefit from to make holiday celebrations less daunting.


Allow yourself to feel your emotions.

There is a lot of pressure to fake a smile in a season that is trademarked as merry and bright. This can cause many grieving individuals to turn to substances like alcohol to mask their true emotions. Other escapisms such as binge eating and compulsive spending may also occur.

It is important to allow yourself to fully experience your painful emotions in order to work through them. Repressing these feelings doesn’t get rid of them. It only prolongs the grieving process and further disrupts your life.

You can’t begin to unpack the complex layers of your grief until you confront these feelings head on. Once you have an awareness of these inner mechanisms, you can begin to have compassion for yourself. Once you have compassion for yourself, you can begin to heal.

Oftentimes, we deny ourselves the right to experience our emotions because we have been taught that they make us weak. We might feel fragile for grieving something for so long, or for even grieving at all.

Some people may also feel undeserving of expressing pain because they have so many blessings to be grateful for. You may tell yourself things like “This is just the cycle of life” or “It could be worse.” These toxic thought patterns can also be reinforced by other people.

It is important to give yourself a safe space to be present with whatever you are going through. For some, this will mean saying no to certain social functions or excusing yourself early. For others, this will mean vocalizing your pain to trusted and empathetic loved ones. Whatever the case, give yourself permission to be vulnerable and express what is on your heart.


Nurture yourself attentively.

It is easy to neglect ourselves when we are in the throes of grief. Some may lose their appetite and forget to eat, while others will eat too much and become overweight. Similarly, some may struggle with insomnia, while others sleep excessively. We may waste away, or burn ourselves out trying to stay busy and avoid the pain.

During this time, it is important to nurture ourselves much like we would care for a child. It is easier said than done. However, compassionately attending to your immediate needs is one of the most important steps in the healing journey.

Physical upkeep is one of the many actionable ways we can be a loving and supportive witness to our own pain. This can be a gesture as simple as taking a hot shower, drinking a tall glass of water, or cooking yourself a healthy meal. Once you’ve drunk enough water and consumed enough calories, stretching, short bouts of exercise, and self-massage are also great ways to nourish yourself.

Make sure to regularly connect with your body. It will prevent you from getting consumed by your thoughts and give you the physical strength you need to effectively process your emotions.


Write Letters (for your eyes only).

Unfinished business can be a significant factor prolonging our grief. You may feel burdened by words left unsaid, or lack the energy to communicate your complex emotions to your loved ones.

Writing letters is an incredible way to liberate yourself from what is weighing on your heart. These letters can be addressed to anyone, including a loved one that has passed, an ex-partner, and your past, current, or future self.

The most important part of this exercise is to write without the intent of sending the letter. You can always send it later on if you choose to. However, writing with the knowledge that other people will later read our thoughts can often cause us to self-censor.

More often than not, closure comes from within us rather than somebody else. Writing letters helps to facilitate that closure by allowing us to release our pent up thoughts.


Stay close to your loved ones.

We often feel the need to isolate as we battle our grief, especially when we can’t live up to the expectations of holiday cheer. Even if we are physically present with others, we may become aloof or emotionally unavailable in an effort to hide our emotional struggles.

As social creatures, we need to maintain strong connections with others for optimum wellbeing. This is especially true during times of emotional turbulence. Resist the temptation to shut the world out. Lean into empathetic relationships where you can be vulnerable, even when your emotions are complicated and intense. Try to have lighthearted social interactions as well, and remind yourself that life can still be enjoyed despite what you have lost.


Maintain or start traditions that honor what was lost.

Establishing new holiday traditions can be incredibly healing in the face of grief. While your loved one may no longer be able to sit at your table, perhaps you can prepare the beloved dish they used to cook. If you move away from your family and are unable to visit, scheduling a video call and doing a bonding activity can maintain your connection. If you are recently divorced, you may want to start a new holiday tradition with your children to replace the previous family routine.

While sadness will likely arise in the face of these changes, proactive choices signify that you are moving forward. This is a step in the direction of healing and closure, which is worth celebrating.


Getting Help

Here at Dr. Messina and Associates, our compassionate team of professionals are qualified to help you at our Flower Mound, Texas, and Southlake, Texas, offices. Our Psychologists, Psychiatrists, and Counselors specialize in cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), psychological testing, and medication management for a variety of emotional and behavioral health needs. All services are available in-person and online (telehealth). If you or a loved one are seeking help with mental health, we are here to help.

Dr. Michael Messina

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