It's that time of year again when mornings are downright chilly, foliage is finishing its grand finale, and holiday décor is rapidly filling store shelves. It comes around like clockwork and for most, the hustle and bustle of the holiday season is festive. But for those of us who have a heart full of sorrow, this time of year brings a kaleidoscope of emotions heralded in by the first pumpkin spice ad. And if the grief is still raw, the holidays can be downright terrifying.
What is the best way to help manage the emotionally charged holidays? The approaches are as varied as there are people, but the following suggestions offer a few heartfelt ways to help navigate the festivities.
1. Try to maintain your usual holiday customs. A familiar routine offers a sense of reassurance that not everything in life has changed. And staying true to what was once familiar can help us stay grounded through the holiday hustle.
2. Give oneself lots of breathing room, and avoid packing the schedule too full. Grieving is emotionally exhausting most days and one must allow for plenty of rest to minimize raw nerves. But this is even more important during the holiday flurry of shopping, school performances, and parties.
3. Cut yourself some slack and buy store-bought. Grieving is naturally distracting, which invites opportunity for kitchen disasters, which in turn can cause coping skills to quickly evaporate. If the family expects your legendary dinner rolls, then cheat elsewhere on the menu such as purchasing gourmet mashed potatoes and gravy from the deli.
4. Treat yourself to lots of TLC. Tenderly soothing sensitive parts of your body is an attentive way to honor your emotional pain during exhausting times. Wear an especially soft pair of socks. Treat yourself to a dollop of whipped cream on your mocha. Indulge in a bar of aromatherapy soap to use in the shower or bath. While these small gestures do nothing to erase the emotional heartache, they do offer your physical body a reminder that not all pleasure is lost.
5. Take time to create peaceful surroundings. Turn off your computer, light a fragrant candle, grab a soft blanket, and plan to watch one favorite movie or show each evening.
6. Give yourself permission to feel some joy. If you catch yourself humming to the holiday music piped over the store speakers, don’t stop. Feeling joy during the grieving process does not invalidate your loved one’s memory, and can help to balance out the sadness.
7. Find a way for you and/or your family to include the loved one’s memory in the festivities. Fill your loved one’s stocking with cat toys or dog treats to share with the family pet on Christmas morning. Or visit your loved one’s favorite coffee stand and “pay it forward”. Or buy a small bouquet of balloons in your loved one’s favorite color and leave it in a public spot for a stranger to find.
8. Do something in the community that lifts your spirits. It is humbling yet gratifying to help others, and is a good reminder that we aren’t alone in our struggles. It helps us keep perspective that the holidays can be challenging for many.
9. If you need to hide from the world during this difficult time, take comfort knowing that many need to hibernate this time of year, and apologize to no one.
10. Give in to the tears as often as needed. There is no shortage of raw emotions over the holidays, and crying is our way of releasing those feelings. And always remember that tears are healing no matter what.
Even though it comes around like clockwork, the holidays can remain one of the most dreaded times of the year if your heart is full of sorrow. Allow yourself to try a handful of the suggestions above as you navigate the emotional kaleidoscope that begins with those first pumpkin spice ads. And don’t forget the whipped cream.