Grieving Through the Holiday Season
Grief is a hidden emotion during the holiday season. People will often attempt to hide it, not wanting to be a burden on others or bring people “down.” It is more likely that many more of us will be feeling some level of sadness or grief this year, however. It’s been that kind of year. We have all lost so much due to the current pandemic. The election has created quite a bit of extra anxiety and stress. This is all on top of the normal amount of stress we often feel during the holidays trying to please our different family members.
Tip #1 on Grief — Allow Space to Be Sad:
It’s too easy to avoid grief. We look at the holiday season as a time when we are supposed to be happy. Sometimes it feels wrong to be sad and so we put on a happy face. We can push the sadness down and never fully grieve for what has been lost this year.
Or we don’t allow others in our family to feel that sadness. It’s hard to watch others feel sad or hurting.
Sometimes the best thing we can do is allow others, and ourselves, to feel sad. Acknowledge the pain for a little bit. Recognize what pain you are feeling and why you are feeling it. Name that pain or sadness. This can be a helpful step towards moving to a place of being emotionally regulated.
Tip #2 on Grief — Talk with Others About What You Are Missing:
One of the common behaviors people make while grieving is to keep their sadness to themselves. This is largely counter-productive. If you are feeling a deep sense of sadness around the holidays this year, do not be afraid of reaching out to people you trust and share it.
If you are sad about missing the family gathering this year, talk about how much you have appreciated those moments in previous years. Share how you are looking forward to having them again in the future. Share your disappointment but be productive with the sharing. What are the reasons that you are going to miss it? What are some favorite stories you have from past gatherings?
Be as specific as you can when discussing some of these things. Generalities are okay but being specific helps in naming what you are going to miss. Tell the stories.
It is also helpful to create space for others to share about what they are grieving or sad about. You can use active listening skills to help your loved ones process their emotions of what has been lost.
Tip #3 on Grief — Hold onto Traditions That You Can Keep:
We’ve all lost so much this year. Losing traditions or gatherings can isolate us further. And while we may be losing certain traditions, think about which ones you can keep. If you are missing out on visiting family this year, how might you be able to keep some traditions using video conferencing technology? If you usually do a cookie baking party with friends or family, schedule a time to meet while everyone bakes in their own kitchen. If you typically decorate your house during the holidays, you can still decorate even if you aren’t hosting any gatherings this year. Do what you can in making your holiday what you would like it to be.
Tip #4 on Grief — Create New Traditions Where You Can:
While we will all be grieving the old traditions that we are used to having, it is also an opportunity to look for new ones. What is one new thing you can add to what you have done in the past? If you are used to walking down Peacock Lane every season to look at Christmas lights, perhaps set up an evening to walk through your own or nearby neighborhood. Warm up some hot chocolate, bundle up, and go for that walk. Or choose a different neighborhood to walk through each week.
There are many different reasons that this year has been hard for so many. And while the holiday season is still worth getting excited about, there are also a number of reasons for people to feel sad. It’s okay to feel sad during this season. You don’t need to perform for others. And if others you know are grieving, you don’t need them to perform for you, either. The truth is, we don’t do a very good job of sitting with the pain in the United States.
Notice I wrote “sitting with” and not “sitting in” the pain. We don’t need to allow it to overwhelm us. If you are feeling overwhelmed with the sadness and grief, though, consider finding a professional counselor. A counselor can help you move through the process of grief. But it is okay to recognize the pain and give sadness its place.
Wellspace Counseling is a mental health therapy practice that assists students and young professionals find freedom from their anxiety and low self-esteem in the Tualatin, Lake Oswego, Tigard, and Greater Portland Metro Area.