The most wonderful time of the year… is over. The decorations are finally packed away and in many parts of the country, it’s a cold, dark, dreary season. If you’re grieving, the aftermath of the holiday season can feel like more than just a let-down; it can seem completely devastating.
Even though the holidays might bring back memories that can exacerbate your grief, they also provided visitors, parties and celebrations, countless tasks to keep you busy and myriad events to look forward to. Now that the gifts are unwrapped and the parties are over, it’s easy to feel isolated and alone. And when grief meets the post-holiday blues, you could feel trapped without a lifeline. In my experience, overcoming these “blues” takes conscious action. Start with the steps I’ve outlined below.
“Thank” beyond Thanksgiving
A day of Thanksgiving is fantastic; practicing gratitude on a daily basis is a priceless tool to help you overcome your grief. In my book, “What I Wish I’d Known: Finding Your Way Through the Tunnel of Grief,” I explain how gratitude helped change my life after my husband’s suicide. My day begins and ends with gratitude. Each morning, I start my day by listing five great things that will happen today – I say these out loud and, consequently, I feel grateful for the day.
Every day, I remind myself of all the people and things in my life for which I’m grateful. I list these (out loud or in my head) each day, even as I’m on “autopilot” – driving, cleaning or cooking. My list changes from day to day, but it always includes my family, my health, my friends, a career that makes me passionate and a world that allows me to learn and grow – and recognize that grief is not the enemy; it’s the teacher.
There’s nothing wrong with recalling happy memories of holidays past, but living in the past won’t help you forge a happy future. When you’re grieving, it’s important to have something to look forward to. With the holidays behind you, you may feel like there’s nothing left to anticipate. Mark your calendar with events or occasions that excite you. If you can’t think of any, it’s time to make a plan. Enroll in a class you think you’ll enjoy, plan a vacation or buy tickets to an amazing play. Looking forward will help you move through each day with excitement.
Take care of yourself
It may seem simple, but one thing many of my grief counseling clients neglect is, well, themselves. When you’re grieving, it can be easy to become apathetic about what you eat, how well you sleep or whether or not you take the time to relax and unwind. Make small, attainable goals each day in order to practice self-care. Get moving – whether that’s a hardcore gym session or a walk around the block. Be conscious about what you eat and make sure it’s wholesome and nutritious. If you’re not sleeping well (or sleeping too much), set sleep goals that include a regular bedtime and regular wake time.
Make a list
…you might even want to check it twice. Now that the holidays are over, you can spend time getting your life and home in order. Make a list of those tasks you’ve been avoiding and gain the satisfaction of crossing them off one by one. Start with something simple – like organizing your storage closet or stocking the pantry. Whether you’re paying bills, scrapbooking an old vacation or remodeling a bathroom, completing these tasks will help give you a sense of accomplishment.
Champagne popping, confetti falling and people around the world reflecting on the past twelve months; yes, New Year’s is here. But “auld acquaintance be forgot,” is a whole lot easier sung than done – particularly when you’re grieving.
Grief is a funny thing. It can be a dull, throbbing pain that’s ever-present, or it can hit you like a bus when you least expect it. If your goal this year is to process your grief in a healthy way and return to the happy person you once were, it’s time to make some thoughtful resolutions.
Eat for your health
What’s food got to do with your grief? In my experience, a lot. When my husband completed suicide, my once-healthy, thoughtful diet seemed to die with him. I was deeply depressed and often skipped meals. I lost weight, and not in a good way. The thing is, you can’t heal your mind and spirit while your body is wasting away. You need strength to get through the tough days, and that means you need to become your healthiest self. In my book, “What I Wish I’d Known: Finding Your Way Through the Tunnel of Grief,” I outline several ways to get your nutrition back on track. These include meal planning and eliminating packaged and artificial foods.
Get better sleep
Everyone processes grief differently, but it’s very common for it to affect how you sleep. For some, grief causes insomnia. For others, grief causes a desire to sleep the days away. Neither end of the pendulum is healthy.
Of course, resolving to sleep better requires action. I counsel all my clients to make their bedrooms a sleep sanctuary. Invest in soft, comfortable bedding and eliminaten TVs and devices from the bedroom. Practice going to bed and waking up at the same time every day, even if it means you lay awake for a while. As you train your body, it will respond by providing you with better sleep – which in turn will help you heal.
Practice positive self-talk
When you’re grieving, it can feel like your mind is your worst enemy. You likely experience thoughts – either sad or traumatic – that come without invitation and linger longer than you’d like. It can be difficult to train your brain to think differently, but it’s not impossible. One thing you can do is engage in positive self-talk. For me, that meant writing down “thought anchors,” and repeating them every day – sometimes several times per day. Thought anchors are positive thoughts that offer you encouragement, comfort and reassurance. Take a few minutes every day to repeat these. You can write your own or use some of mine:
· It’s healthy to grieve.
· I have an attitude of gratitude.
· I’m open to being happy again.
· My body is healthy, my mind is sharp and my soul is tranquil.
Work it out
It’s the New Year, so getting to the gym is on everyone’s list of resolutions. But exercise doesn’t have to be about losing weight or finding a six-pack (though that’s not a bad thing). Exercise is medically proven to help fend off the symptoms of depression, which is very common when you’re grieving. I recommend that my clients exercise outside whenever possible, as the outdoors not only offer solitude and inspiration, but also provide healthy vitamin D. Wherever you decide to work out, make a resolution to do it regularly – at least three times per week.
Face it head-on
Too often, those suffering from grief cope with it the best way they know how – by avoiding it altogether. But burying your head under the sand (or in your work, or under your covers, or with alcohol or substances) will never allow you to process your grief. This year, resolve to face your feelings head-on. That means acknowledging your pain when you feel it (and yes, processing grief requires you to feel it) and accepting that your grief triggers various and sometimes inexplicable feelings, like anger, fear, depression, anxiety, etc. Another way to truly face your grief is to seek out professional help, like a grief counselor, who can help you confront your feelings and find healthy ways to deal with them. Lastly, don’t be afraid to talk about your loss to those you love and trust, like your family and close friends. Talking is a way of acknowledging the loss, which is a vital part of grief recovery.
Grief is part of life, but it doesn’t have to control yours.
by Kristi Hugstad
Each of us has attached ourselves to something or somebody, and when you lose that special thing or person, you grieve. Always. You can try to run from it all you want, but it will always find you and tackle you when you’re not looking. My blogs, along with my books, will give you the tools to help you learn to live with your new self as you journey through your grief.