The holidays can be the toughest time of the year…
This is the time of year when anxieties about the holidays begin to creep up on us, especially if we’re grieving a loss of a significant relationship, loss of a pet or companion, the loss of our employment, health or home. The losses and stress we feel may be going unnoticed or unacknowledged because of all the pandemic losses that people around us are coping with. We may find that the uniqueness of our grief experience is going unnoticed, and we feel even more isolated and alone in our grief. For many the energy & care our friends and loved ones might have offered us at this time has been stripped away by the realities of the pandemic. We may find ourselves wondering how we can cope with the holidays without our loved one, or with job and financial loss, on top of everything else.
We may have coped with grief in the past by travelling somewhere, working out more at the gym, reconnecting with religious communities & services, going to the mall, hanging out with friends at a restaurant, bowling alley, card clubs or by volunteering. But the pandemic has taken away many of these activities and choices from us, even the ability to dream about and plan for them remains uncertain.
We find ourselves grieving the loss of these pandemic lifestyle changes, the constant uncertainties, and loss of our usual ways of coping on top of everything else. We may feel like our emotions are all over the place, or we feel irritable, stressed and exhausted emotionally. Grief feels messy like that, and this pandemic is bringing up our past and present pain and adding it to the constant changes and losses related to it as well. It can leave us feeling overwhelmed, in a fog or lost.
Often Holidays cause the stress of anticipating having to be around other people and the pressure to pretend to be OK. Under normal circumstances holiday grief coping would include giving ourselves permission to not have to attend a party or to have a plan B exit arranged so we can leave if/when we need to from an event. Yet with the pandemic we may find ourselves in conflict between the anxiety of being without our loved one or significant other during the holiday season and the reality that we may need to remain isolated and are not sure when there will be a chance to connect with people, or participate in any of the familiar or meaningful rituals of this season.
How do we cope? There are some immediate grounding exercises we can do to alleviate waves of anxiety that we may be experiencing, such as taking three deep breaths, solving a math problem, identifying something we can see, smell, taste, touch, and hear in our surroundings. For the lonely nights there are guided meditations one can access through tube such as David Kessler’s Healing Your Tender Heart or Jason Stephenson’s Guided Meditation for Grief and CD’s at the public library.
Identifying a few things that help lighten our emotional load and making time for them is important. There are some things that have not and will not be cancelled – such as spending time outdoors, watching the birds eat at a feeder, listening to music. Attend a Forest Therapy walk; write memories in a grief journal (here are some prompts: https://healingbrave.com/blogs/all/grief-journaling-prompts), or join an online grief group such as Warriors Inner Journey. Volunteering can help connect us to others and bring a renewed sense of purpose into our life, the Windsor Essex Compassion Care Network connects people to neighbours in need, or can provide someone to call you on a regular basis to talk to
Creating new rituals can be helpful. Families and friends are discovering new ways of connecting through zoom and other video chat platforms. Some families eat together via zoom to make mealtimes less lonely. Consider sharing the same holiday menu or recipe that everyone makes and then eats together at the same time via zoom. Connecting through playing a board game with a far away friend or relative is possible via smart phone or tablet apps such as ScrabbleGO, Gamepigeon, some favourite Mattle games via https://go.mattle.online and games for up to 8 people via Jackbox games.
Grieving well involves naming our losses and moving towards the pain. These needs don’t change just because it’s a holiday season, and the realities of the pandemic make these needs even stronger. Grief is a season to be gentle with ourselves, to prioritize our needs and to do only what we have the power to do.
Join us on December 15 from 7-8pm for Coping with grief in a pandemic at the holidays – a free education session by One Thread Consulting, presented by, Susan Harrison. Register for this free virtual event.