Coping with Grief and Loss over the Holidays
For many people, it’s not ‘the most wonderful time of the year.”
If you’ve lost someone important in your life, recently or in the past, the holidays can be a tough time for you. Whether it is the actual time of the anniversary of a loved one’s death or that the holidays are triggering your memories just like it was an anniversary, this time of year can have a significant impact on your mental health.
The triggers are endless. The carols, the decorations, shopping, commercials on television - the list goes on. Plus, there’s the social and cultural pressure to ‘be happy’ and feel the ‘joy of the season.’ So what are we to do when we feel the sadness of loss and grief with even more intensity over the holidays?
Tips on Coping
Let yourself feel your feelings.
Trying to repress or hide your grief and sadness can only be counterproductive. Although there are several times when the old saying “Fake it til you make it” applies, this is not one of them; you don’t have to pretend to be happy. Acknowledging your feelings is actually healthier and allows you to process them and be more at ease with them.
Talk to your support network.
Share your feelings. Don’t be afraid of ‘bumming’ out and depressing your friends and family. You’ll find that they’ll probably be relieved that you are engaging with them, opening up, and not hiding and isolating yourself. Besides, other people often don’t know what to say to someone who is grieving and they’ll welcome you initiating a conversation, even if it’s a hard one.
Talk to a professional.
Maybe you want to talk, but the subject is too hard for other family members who aren’t ready to process and aren’t in the same place as you. As much as your family and friends want to help you, sometimes you just need to have an impartial third party who has no vested interest or attachment to your situation, other than to be there to help you.
Consider your traditions.
Just because it’s the holiday season doesn’t mean you have to spend it the way that you always have, or the way that everyone else does. Change it up and do what feels right for you this year. Maybe the tree is a little smaller, or you don’t go carolling. Perhaps you start a new tradition honouring the person you’ve lost; if they had a favourite Christmas movie, for example, you could have the family over to watch it together and reminisce about your loved one. Say no to celebrations you don’t feel like attending, just remember to balance that with still getting out of the house and seeing people when you feel up to it.
Maintain good habits.
Eat well, exercise, be sure to get enough sleep, spend time on self-care, say no to things, and don’t use alcohol or drugs to fend off your sadness. By taking good care of yourself in a holistic fashion, you’ll be emotionally and physically stronger to deal with the down times.
When you do have a down time, don’t forget there are people out there to help. Local to this author, Dr. Anson Koo, Fraser Health’s Chief Psychiatrist, was recently on Global TV discussing how the holidays see an increased surge in calls to helplines, as people struggle with grief, loss, and trauma.
If you are experiencing any of the following symptoms, please call your local helpline, family member, friend, your doctor, or a counsellor. (This is just a partial list. See more here.)
- Low mood
- Loss of motivation
- Altered eating habits
- Altered sleeping habits
- Increased drug or alcohol use
- Thoughts of self-harm or others
Call 24/7/365 for Free
Fraser Health 24-hour crisis line: 604-951-8855
BC Mental Health Support Line: 310-6789 (do not add 604, 778 or 250 before the number).
Greater Vancouver Crisis Line: 604-872-3311 or 1-866-661-3311
Across Canada: 1-833-456-4566
En Québec, composez le 1-866-APPELLE (1-866-277-3553)
‘Start’ to 45645 between 4pm and midnight ET
See a larger list of helplines across Canada here.
However you choose to spend the holidays, be good to yourself and others, take breaks, get plenty of rest, and cherish the good times of today and yesteryear.