How to Cope With Holiday Grief
If you look at popular culture and media, the holidays are often depicted as joyful occasions with nothing but happiness, laughter, and usually love. While this can be true, it can also be misleading. The holidays especially can bring up a variety of emotions and experiences that are often left out of the conversation despite being a very large part of the spectrum of emotions that we feel and experience throughout the season.
One common, but less frequently discussed, emotion that people experience during the holidays is grief. Holiday grief can be confusing because it can show up unexpectedly and is sometimes intertwined with seemingly opposite emotions like happiness, or contentment. Alternatively, it may not be unexpected or surprising to experience holiday grief and it may feel like the primary emotion for a variety of reasons. Whether you’re grieving the loss of a loved one, experiencing the current collective grief, or finally coming to terms with grief from the past, today we’ll discuss some basic ways to navigate grief during the holidays.
Be Honest With Yourself
When experiencing uncomfortable emotions, like grief, it is important to be truthful to yourself about what you’re feeling. Too often society asks us to neglect our emotional experiences and “keep moving.” Unfortunately, when it comes to our feelings, the only way out is through. Acknowledge your truth, even if it’s only to yourself, and do yourself the favor of moving through the emotion rather than allowing it to stagnate. Naming our experiences can be validating, stabilizing, and healing.
Too often we diminish the gravity of our uncomfortable emotions. Have you ever tried to talk yourself out of your feelings by comparing yours to something else? “Well, other people have it so much worse than I do.” That advice is frequently offered as a positive perspective but it can actually be quite harmful when used incorrectly. Perspective is helpful when you’re pouting about your Door Dash being delivered to the front desk instead of your apartment door and need a reminder that it’s a privilege to be able to order food for delivery, even if you have to walk downstairs to grab it. However, when it comes to something like grief, it’s important to remember that many things can exist at once. There are many hard things happening in the world that are causing pain for a lot of people, yes. Simultaneously, you are also experiencing something painful, and no less important, in your world. Both are valid. It is rarely helpful to compare subjective experiences.
Make the Holidays Your Own
When grieving the loss of loved ones, occasionally that can be compounded by the loss of tradition. Maybe family traditions have changed or stopped with the loss of a family member. Or perhaps an estranged relationship has prevented you from participating in holiday traditions that you’ve grown accustomed to. Society, religion, capitalism, and the marketing employed to ensure the financial success of “hallmark holidays” often leaves us with the impression that our holidays should look or feel a certain way. Subscribing to these ideas can enhance our grief by adding to the feeling that we might be missing out on something. Combat this feeling by recreating traditions that you once loved or beginning new traditions. You could even put a spin on tradition by committing to the tradition of trying something new each year! Your celebration can and should be whatever you want it to be. Changing things up instead of trying to fit into an old mold can be a great way to alleviate holiday grief.
Navigating grief is a skill and there’s no shame in not yet having all the necessary tools in your emotional toolbox. After naming grief for yourself, it can be helpful to name it to a trusted loved one as well. Surrounding yourself with people and places that provide happiness, care, and love can be a wonderful way to remind yourself that life exists outside of hard emotions like grief. Additionally, the confidential and professional support that a therapist can provide is another excellent way to move through grief. A therapist can provide tangible ways to process and cope with grief in order to reduce its effects on your life in both the present and the future.
Be Kind to Yourself
Most importantly, be gentle with yourself. Grief has a way of making you feel isolated as if you’re the only one experiencing it. If you aren’t careful, it can lead to a distortion in the stories we tell ourselves. In reality, grief is a universal experience. You aren’t weak, dramatic, or broken for experiencing it. Furthermore, you aren’t alone. Remind yourself that your feelings of grief will pass and give yourself the gift of getting curious about your grief. The better you understand your experience, the easier it will be to move through it.