Anticipatory grief – a feeling of loss before a death or dreaded event occurs – is a hard journey. Holidays make it even harder. At a time when you’re supposed to feel happy and joyful, you feel sad and anxious. You’re on pins and needles and wonder what will happen next.
Remember, your grief stems from love, and you may find comfort in that. According to the National Mental Health Association, holidays don’t erase your reasons for feeling sad and lonely, but “there is room for these feelings to be present.” So accept your feelings and, if you feel like crying, go ahead and do it.
Crying will help you to feel better. Here are some other ways you can help yourself.
1) BE REALISTIC
You don’t have to create a “perfect” holiday. You do need to set realistic goals, get organized, and pace yourself. Rather than focusing on one day, the National Mental Health Association recommends focusing on “a season of holiday sentiment.”
2) ASK FOR HELP
You don’t need to do everything yourself. Family members and friends will be glad to help with planning, decorating, and cooking. One family member could bring a traditional dish, even just a pumpkin pie. Another family member could provide linens and launder them afterwards. Your request for help makes others feel needed.
Finances can cause stress at any time, but they cause an excessive amount of stress during the holidays. Set a budget for gifts, decorations, and entertaining. Staying within your budget will make you feel better about the holidays and yourself. Your gifts don’t even have to be new. Holidays are a perfect time to pass along family possessions – a beloved piece of jewelry, historic photo, or cherished book. Stick a short note about the item in with your gift.
4) EAT RIGHT
Because nutrition affects brain chemistry, you need to eat balanced meals during the holidays. As appetizing as they may look, pass up the candy and cookies that come your way. Instead choose fruits and veggies from the buffet table and one dessert. Keeping a supply of healthy snacks on hand will also help you to eat right.
5) DRINK MODERATELY
According to the National Mental Health Association – “Alcohol makes the holiday blues worse.” Too much alcohol can cause you to say things you’ll regret later. If you drink alcohol, drink in moderation or skip it all together. Drink sparkling cider, non-alcoholic punch, or flavored water instead of alcohol.
6) GET ENOUGH SLEEP
You’re probably thinking, “Yeah, right.” But you need sleep to survive the holidays. Getting enough sleep is hard to do with so many holiday events going on. However, you may be selective about what you attend, leave early, and get a good night’s sleep. Balance a late night with a short nap the next day.
7) LIGHT YOUR WAY
Vanderbilt University wellness experts say more people get depressed during the holidays than at any other time. Some of these people have Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). If you live in a cold climate and the days are short you may wish to be evaluated for SAD. Phototherapy (Light Therapy) is usually recommended for those with SAD. Even if you don’t have SAD, well-lit rooms will lift your spirits.
Daily physical activity is a proven way to cope with stress. Walk around town or the local mall and look at holiday decorations. Play catch with your kids or grandkids. Bundle up and go cross-country skiing. A half hour of physical activity per day helps to chase the blues away.
9) BE CONCILIATORY
According to Mayo Clinic family tensions may flare during the holidays if members are “thrust together for several days.” Holidays aren’t the time to settle family disputes, they’re a time for conciliatory and kind behavior. Discuss family grievances at a later date.
10) HELP OTHERS
Holidays are associated with families and togetherness according to Jill Rach-Beisel, MD, Director of Community Psychiatry at the University of Maryland. But, due to the divorce rate and fragmented families, many don’t have this kind of holiday experience. Still, you may connect with a substitute family by volunteering at a senior center, reading to shut-ins, or tutoring children.
11) MAKE NEW MEMORIES
The memories you make during this holiday season may comfort you in the future. Take digital photos of holiday events and put them on a CD. Send copies of the CD to all your family members. Every family has stories to tell and you may create new memories by recording some of these stories. You may also record your holiday events on video.
12) SAVOR THE MOMENT
Though you are sorrowful, you’re alive and able to be with those you love and care about. Surround yourself with life: family members, friends, colorful flowers, pets, and hobbies that make you happy. For every moment of life – even the sorrowful ones – is a miracle.
So, on this Thanksgiving and as we come into the extended Holiday season, you may be coming into a time where you are anticipating grief and loss, remember to capture and cherish the moments of life before it is too late. Make a memory – you will be thankful for the rest of your life.