Dealing With Grief and Loss During the Holiday Season: A Guide to Coping

distraught female at Christmas

By: Carlos Mackall

 The holiday season can stir up all sorts of feelings in people. Some get excited about reuniting and seeing their loved ones, while others get anxious and overwhelmed. But in the midst of the hustle and bustle of the holidays, let’s be grateful that we get to celebrate another year of life. We all have someone we lost who isn’t here to celebrate with us this year, and as challenging as it is, we can still find a way to honor them.

Anyone who has known me can tell you that I’ve lost most of the people closest to me. I mention this not to seek sympathy but to emphasize that grief and loss are a shared human experience. We can feel numb, experience survivor guilt, apathy, PTSD, anxiety, depression, isolation, or, in some cases, even give up hope.

It’s no surprise that suicide rates are increasing, largely due to untreated mental health issues. Adjusted for population growth and age, suicide rates have risen by 16% from 2011 to 2022, moving from 12.3 to 14.4 deaths per 100,000 individuals (Heather Saunders and Nirmita Panchal, “A Look at the Latest Suicide Data and Change of the Last Decade,” kff.org, Aug 04, 2023). One way to honor our loved ones is to take care of ourselves and others.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness noted that 64% of individuals living with mental illness felt that their conditions worsened around the holidays.

This holiday season, I invite you to commit to making a pact. Before I tell you what you are agreeing to, know that: you have no control over what happens today or tomorrow, but you do have control over how you respond to it. It’s okay to feel sad, hurt, or discouraged for a moment, but then find a way to recalibrate and bounceback.

The pact: I will take care of myself and those around me. I will be grateful and kind. I will be mindful of our mental health.

If you’re struggling this holiday season, here are some tips to help you make the best out of it:

 Set reasonable expectations

  • Practice prayer and meditation
  • Prevent burnout and reduce your commitments – It’s okay to say NO!
  • Try breathing techniques.
  • Get some sunlight and fresh air
  • Take walks or get moving
  • Listen to upbeat music to improve your mood
  • Get proper rest (aim for min 8 hrs)
  • Avoid engaging with negative people
  • Limit caffeine and alcohol
  • Read a good book or listen to a favorite podcast

If you need to see a mental health professional because you feel depressed, anxious, or any other mental health concern make an appointment or call the National Suicide Lifeline 988.  This is easier said than done, but just like many other things you have overcome in your life, you have the strength to conquer this as well.

Stay proactive by taking care of yourself mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually.  Happy Holidays!

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