With the holidays upon us, there are festive parties, elaborate decorations, gift giving, and other reminders that this is a time of celebration. However, for many who have experienced loss, this season triggers pain and loneliness. Instead of celebrating, they find themselves in darkness looking for an escape. It’s hard to experience joy and appreciation when grieving.

The Nature of Grief

Grief is a natural response to any loss. It is a process that results from some type of disruption in our routine. It could be from a permanent disruption (such as death) or temporary disruption (such as loss of a job). Generally, the more significant the loss, the more intense the grief. Grief impacts feelings, behaviors, and thoughts—which impact physical health.

Loss During the Holiday

Grief at any time of year is difficult, but grief is generally heightened during the holiday season. For many, the time between Thanksgiving and New Years cues emotional memories of a loss. Even if the death occurred several years ago, it can still be especially hurtful during the holidays. For this reason, participating in holiday events and traditions can take a toll on grievers.

Loss of a loved one through death is a highly stressful period of time. In addition to death, other losses in life may be just as difficult. For example, loss of a spouse through divorce, loss of some other significant relationship, loss of a pet, loss of a job, loss of a house, or loss of good health can also become overwhelming. In addition to the tangible losses, there are the intangible losses of security, trust, stability, and support.

Tips for Managing

  • Allow yourself to grieve and don’t suppress your emotions. In other words, cry as much as you need.
  • If this is your first holiday without your loved one, expect that things will be different. Give yourself permission to be okay with that fact.
  • Lean on your support system and let them know what you need. For example, say if you need help or if you need space.
  • Make a plan and be in control of how you choose to spend your time. You may not feel like attending some holiday gatherings.
  • Help others. It’s rewarding and therapeutic to spend time helping others in need.
  • Treat yourself to relaxation, pampering, or some activity that would make you happy.
  • Avoid self-medicating, excessive drinking, or using drugs.

Professional Help

The sadness may never go away completely; however, the time will come when the emotions become less intense. If you cannot move forward, you may need professional help. Be aware if the grief continues to keep you from resuming your life. If the pain is so intrusive that you cannot carry out usual activities despite the grief, seek professional help.

Wanda Hall-Myers, Ph.D., Psychologist is the owner of Hall-Myers Consulting. This firm focuses on helping organizations fulfill their missions by developing their leaders and creating cultures that are adaptive and responsive to change. For more information contact 901.230.6363 or email wanda@hallmyersconsulting.com