Grieving During the Holidays: 2020 Edition
Grief is a normal reaction to an exorbitant amount of distress, typically occurring due to a personal loss or affliction.
However, did you know that grief and loss symptoms do not just occur when we lose someone we love?
In 2020 alone, we have gone through so much change and challenge that the amount of grief and loss is almost incalculable.
Would you like to be able to identify your grief/loss, phases of grief or symptoms, and work through them in a healthy manner?
If any part of this resonates with you, read on.
Going through the symptoms of grief is a natural reaction and process to the loss of someone or something in our lives.
In 2020, alone, you may have gone through
The loss of one or a few of your loved ones,
The loss of your previously known work or school routine,
The loss of your income and independence,
The loss of your home (especially for those in states affected by natural disaster amidst the COVID-19 pandemic),
The loss of your pet, your “normal routine,” your alone time,
and the list goes on and on...
It is no wonder as the holidays are setting in, we are hitting mental roadblocks full of feelings of despair, anxiety, sadness, turmoil, confusion, anger, and more.
This time of year is typically one of the most difficult, coupled with the seasonal changes in New England, the risk of depression symptoms are high, especially when combined with a new loss or anniversary of previous losses.
It is important that we take time to recognize the symptoms/phases of grief and work through them in a healthy manner.
Having worked with many clients who have faced the challenges of grief and loss, there is a period of mourning that occurs following a loss, and there is no timeline on this.
Grief itself is a process, that is painful, emotional, personal, and can work in phases. Mourning is a part of this process, where we take what is happening to us on the inside and begin to work through it on the outside.
There are many myths amongst the topic of grief and loss; you may
have been told one of these before:
Grief and Loss Myths:
“Grief and mourning are the same thing.”
“Grief is the same for each type of loss you go through.”
“Grief should only last one year.”
“Once you ‘get over’ your grief, it doesn’t come back.”
“Grief happens in stages that are linear.”
“Women grieve more than men.”
“In order to really grieve you have to cry.”
“Grief gets better with time; the first year is the hardest.”
If you have heard anyone tell you these things before, I am truly sorry.
To debunk some of these myths, please note that grief changes with each type of loss we go through; emotionally, physically, and socially, you may go through different symptoms.
During one type of loss, you may experience intense depression symptoms with social isolation and physical stomach pain with headaches. Whereas during another, you may experience less depression and more impending doom/mortality thoughts about your life and purpose instead.
Grief also does not last just one year; grief is a lifelong process, sometimes we feel acceptance in speaking about what has occurred, and sometimes we feel extreme distress. Over the years, days of anniversaries of passing, birthdays, or other special holidays or times spent with the person or thing you have lost, could even subconsciously stir up the emotions of grief again.
Finally, grief does not look the same for everyone. Women do not automatically grieve more than men because of their identified sex, and grief does not always mean you will cry. Sometimes, we grieve family members, changes, and/or losses before someone passes or something changes, and other times, we experience more anger following a loss than we do sadness. Although, this can be tricky, as oftentimes anger is an “emotional umbrella” that holds sadness, despair, and depression beneath it.
In debunking the linear progression of grief that is often described to many of us, let us take a look at the phases of grief:
The theory of stages of grief was developed by psychiatrist Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, in which she indicated five major parts of this process, including:
Arguably, there are other theories that include a few other stages as well, but for this article’s purpose we will use this model. An example of what is experienced in each area is as follows:
Shock/Denial: An attempt to slow down the emotional process of overwhelming grief; “...but I was just with this person yesterday; I can’t believe it; this isn’t happening.”
Anger: An attempt to utilize a form of emotion that does not require nearly as much vulnerability as we may feel for our loss; anger is the expression of what we are feeling without fear of judgement or rejection, and in the moment convinces us this is the safer option (especially if showing emotion in your childhood was not received well). Unfortunately, this leaves us isolated when we need connection and comfort more than anything.
Bargaining: An attempt to avoid the emotional pain and possibly minimize it: “God, I promise to be better if you heal this person.” “I will never get angry/drink/do drugs again if you keep this person safe/heal them/don’t let them leave me.” What we are often really feeling here, is helplessness.
Depression: This is where our attempts have failed us, and we are faced with looking at the reality of the situation. An overflow of emotions that have been covered up by panic, anger, and other hyper-aroused states begins to show up instead. For some people, this is the most painful process.
Acceptance: This is where we have accepted the reality of our loss. We can still feel many emotions during this stage, but we are attempting to navigate our lives without the person we loved physically present, and/or with the new changes that have occurred in our lives.
It would be nice if each of these phases happened in order; we would know exactly what to expect on our healing journey.
However, emotions just do not occur this way. It is normal and common to feel almost all of these emotions in one day, let alone go from a stage of denial, to anger, to depression, to anger, to denial, to bargaining, to acceptance, to depression, to acceptance. You get the idea.
So, what can we do to help ease the emotional pain
(and physical pain associated with emotions),
especially over the next six weeks of holidays?
Here are some ideas that may be helpful to you:
1. Normalize your grief and recognize the emotions you are experiencing. Acknowledge that things will be different this year. Allow yourself to feel when you need to. A few good questions to ask yourself may be: What am I feeling? Where am I feeling it in my body? What might this feeling be trying to tell me? If this feeling had a thought/reaction, what would it want to say or do? How is my environment impacting me in this moment? How are my own thoughts impacting me in this moment? What do I need the most right now to work through this emotion? What small step can I take right now to meet that need
2. Reach out to a friend, family member, or professional support.
Sometimes, being able to just sit with someone else may be of comfort during this time. We can also ask our family/friends to listen or to be a sounding board if they and you, feel comfortable. You can also seek peer support, therapeutic grief group support, and a licensed therapist who specializes in or has training in grief and loss, to work through the emotions.
3. Utilize worksheets or journaling.
If you do not feel comfortable reaching out to others, or you feel you cannot reach out to others at this time, try working through the symptoms of grief with a pen and paper. You can journal out how you are feeling in the moment, what you wish you could share with the person you lost, what you miss about your loved one or change that has occurred, and what you are learning from going through this loss both within yourself and from the person who has passed.
4. Set honest boundaries.
It is okay if you do not feel like attending any holiday activities this year. It is okay if you attend and then need to leave early. It is okay if you only feel comfortable attending virtually this year. Remember, “No,” is a completed sentence. Plan and communicate with your family/friends as to what is doable for you this year and what is not. Remember, their way of grieving and/or celebrating life may not be the same as yours, and that is okay.
5. Get creative.
There are many unique ways to honor a loved one or change; through changing or keeping traditions, creating a memorial ornament, cooking the family’s or your loved one’s favorite dinner and sharing your favorite memories, play your loved one’s favorite music, skip or minimize gifts/decorations this year if that feels appropriate for you, let your perfectionism go, etc.
6. Trust yourself.
Listen to yourself and what you need. Ignore when people give those, “you should” statements when it comes to doing something you can’t or don’t feel up to this year.
7. Seek gratitude.
Whether you find this spiritually, or through your daily life. It may be helpful to identify things within your loss, yourself and outside of yourself that you are grateful for daily. For example: “I am grateful for the opportunity to learn from this experience. I am grateful for my ability to feel and work through my emotions in this moment. I am grateful for the person in my life whom I can go to to discuss how I am feeling. I am grateful for the people of the community who put together this event/thing. I am grateful for higher power for always holding me up/standing beside me when I feel heavy and lost.” The list goes on and on.
8. Avoid drugs/alcohol.
These void-fillers only mask emotions temporarily. Instant gratification is not worth the difficulty that comes with alcohol or drug use. It will not only have an effect on your emotions, but it may have a ripple effect on your family/friends and other areas of your life.
9. Ask for help and say yes to help.
This may come in the form of family/friends reaching out and offering, or of a group or professional.
If you’d like to see a therapist, we are more than happy to help you work through the holiday time in short-term therapy, or work through the intensity of the grieving process past the holidays as well. Reach out to 860.266.6098 or firstname.lastname@example.org for your free 15-minute consultation.