Michelle planned for her holiday family gathering like she did every year. She cleaned her home, purchased holiday lights, and created a delicious menu. But in the middle of the celebration, Michelle had to excuse herself.

She went into the bathroom and started sobbing. Her heart was raw from the loss of a loved one, and she was having trouble feeling happy. What was usually a celebration was colored by the overwhelming pain she felt.

Emotional Health and the Holidays

The holidays may trigger feelings of loneliness, anxiety, depression, and grief. The unspoken pressure to feel happy can intensify your emotions.

Unfortunately, Michelle isn’t the only one who experiences this. The holidays can be a wonderful time with family, friends, and good food. It’s a time for making memories and sharing tender moments.

But it can also make a tender heart feel raw. You may be aching for any number of reasons. Perhaps, like Michelle, you’re grieving the loss of a loved one.

Maybe you just lost a beloved pet or heard you were being evicted. Perhaps you’re missing a family member you’re estranged from. Maybe you learned that your investments just tanked.

What you’re experiencing is grief. It’s the sadness, anger, and pain that comes from loss. Sometimes, that loss may be big (such as death or divorce). Other times, that loss may be smaller, but the loss is still powerful.

Acknowledge Your Feelings

If you’re going through a difficult time, don’t try to put on a brave face and tuck your emotions out of sight. You may be able to bury what you feel temporarily, but those emotions will eventually surface.

Instead, permit yourself to feel your pain. Let yourself grieve this loss. Lean into your sadness, anger, or fear right now. Acknowledge where you are on your journey without judgment.

Let It Be Different

Sometimes, the most challenging part of the holidays is remembering what was.

Your loss may change how you celebrate, and that alone can bring pain. Perhaps you and your children always put up the holiday decorations together. But with the divorce, your kids aren’t home much, and your holiday isn’t the same.

A friend told me that the first year her husband was gone, she expected to feel grief, but the second year was even harder because she was not expecting the grief to be so intense.

It’s OK to let things be different this year. Embracing a new tradition doesn’t mean you’re letting go of the past or not still grieving.

It’s about giving yourself the gift of growth.

Ask for Support

You don’t have to cry alone in the bathroom.

We are created for community and thrive when we receive the support we need.

But if no one knows about your feelings, they can’t be there for you during this difficult time.

Tell a trusted friend or a family member about what you’re going through. You might say, “This holiday is difficult for me because I lost (name your loss). So right now, I feel (emotion you wish to express).”

Tell People What You Need

Understand that although your family and friends may long to support you, they may not know how.

They might be clueless about how to help and offer only trite suggestions or painful advice. Or they may try to avoid the conversation altogether.

You can guide them by telling those you love what you need.

For example, you might say, “Before he died, Dave and I had Friday date nights. Would you be willing to get together on Friday nights with me to do something fun?”

Practice Self-Care

With the chaos of the holidays, it’s easy to let self-care routines begin slipping.

Maybe you’re skipping out on the gym or going to bed late and missing precious hours of sleep. Perhaps you’re eating poorly or failing to take your medication.

Self-care is vital, especially when walking through a season of grief.

Focus on doing one good thing for your body each day – going to the gym, getting enough sleep, or simply taking your medication on time.

Make a List

Think about activities that calm you and help you relax. Please make a list of them now while you’re feeling good.

The next time you start feeling overwhelmed or anxious, you can pull out this list and do one activity.

Some activities you might want to add to your list include…

  • Painting or drawing
  • Call a friend
  • Playing guitar or another instrument
  • Writing or journaling
  • Calligraphy or Coloring
  • Gardening or Hiking
  • Reading a light-hearted book

 

Be Kind to Yourself

Some people think grief is something they should “bounce back” from. While it would be great if it were that simple, grief is not like stubbing your toe. The pain lasts far longer and goes much deeper.

It’s not uncommon to think you’ve grieved and you’re done. You imagine you’re through the worst of it, then something crops up, and you feel the loss all over again as if it were day one of your grief.

Understand that grief is not a destination. It’s not an exotic locale that you visit only once. Grief is a journey that can be ongoing for months, years, or even decades, depending on what you’ve lost.

Know What Triggers You

Certain sounds, sights, or smells may trigger a fresh wave of grief for you.

Paying attention to those triggers can help learn to navigate them.

For example, you might be watching a movie where the main character is in the hospital and be reminded of the stillbirth of your first child. You may feel the trauma, shock, and pain all over again.

When you encounter a trigger, you don’t have to run from it or avoid it. Instead, acknowledge your emotions and express them. You might want to cry, pray, or cuss. Do whatever feels right in the moment.

Grief Is Like a Circle Not a Straight Line

Many people have heard of the five stages of grief. The idea is that you’ll walk through five distinct emotional phases during grief. Typically, those phases look like this…

  • Stage #1: Denial
  • Stage #2: Anger
  • Stage #3: Bargaining
  • Stage #4: Depression
  • Stage #5: Acceptance

However, it’s important to remember that grief is not linear.

You may be at the point where you’re bargaining and think you’ve made it through the first two stages of grief. Only to find an old T-shirt in the back of your closet that reminds you of your loss.

Suddenly, you’re back in denial, thinking that this awful thing couldn’t have happened to you.

The truth is that most people cycle through the stages of grief several times and in a different order each time. That means no one person’s way of grieving will look exactly like yours (nor should it).

Delegate During Holiday Gatherings

Like Michelle, you may be the one in charge of preparations for the holidays. This can naturally be difficult, but when you factor in the weight of grief, it’s easy to become overwhelmed and distressed.

Instead of thinking it all rests on your shoulders, share the burdens of your celebration with others.

Perhaps your brother could handle the decorations while your sister plans the menu. Your partner can shop for the groceries while you buy the gifts.

Don’t feel bad about delegating during the holidays. It’s OK to need help, especially when you’re walking through a season of grief.

Enjoy Without Guilt

At times during the holidays, you may feel joyful. You may experience brief moments of happiness and contentment.

These feelings may be followed by guilt or sadness that you’re moving on.

Making choices that prioritize your mental and emotional well-being is not just acceptable; it is essential. 

Self-compassion is vital during this time.

Remember, feelings move through you as waves wash upon the beach. Be kind to yourself when you are in one of those waves. Like the ocean, the wave recedes, then pauses before another wave.

You deserve to be happy. True, your life may never look the same again. You may always carry this loss with you.

Allow yourself the space and grace to navigate your holidays the way that feels right for you.

You may find this book helpful: Finding the Words – working through profound loss with Hope and purpose by Colin Campbell

 

Nancy Dadami is an Intentional Creativity Guide,  Feng Shui Specialist, and online entrepreneur. Her passion is to support seekers, conscious creators, and visionaries called to expansion, education, and freedom. Resulting in living the best version of themselves, creating a life of beauty, self-awareness, meaning, purpose, and inner peace.  nancydadami.com

Navigating the Holidays When You Don't Feel Like Celebrating

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