Looking forward: How to cope with grief this Christmas

Dec 10, 2019
Christmas can be hard following the death of a loved one, but there are ways to help you cope. Source: Getty

Christmas is a time of celebration, as families come together to eat delicious meals and share gifts, but if you’ve lost a loved one through the year, it can often be hard to enjoy the festive season.

Even if it’s been months since your loved one passed, grief can be heightened over the holidays, and holding onto memories of past years can make it all the more difficult. For some, it can lead to social isolation, while others experience anxiety and loneliness at the thought of not having their loved one around for such a special occasion.

According to the Australian Psychological Society, about one in four people experience loneliness at any given time and one in two feel lonely at least one day a week. If you’re lonely, you may feel exhausted and burnt-out and have trouble connecting with others, or you might feel alienated and alone even when you’re in a room full of people.

While the thought of being around others when you’re feeling flat may be overwhelming, there are a few things you can do over the holidays that will help improve your emotional wellbeing and help you cope. And remember, if you’re feeling especially low, there’s always someone ready to listen, whether it be a close friend, family member or a trained counsellor.

Allow yourself to be happy

Don’t feel guilty about enjoying yourself with family and friends this festive season. Just because you’re having fun doesn’t mean you don’t miss your loved one, or have forgotten them.

Getting together with your family and friends and reminiscing about the good times you all spent together will help the situation.

“Sometimes it can become a bit of a white elephant in the room and avoiding conversations about the deceased will make it harder,” Nancy Pachana, clinical geropsychologist says.

“Some kind of gentle remembrance of that person in conversation makes it a more normalised experience. Don’t isolate yourself from everyone to avoid having any fun.”

Take some time out

Don’t forget to look after yourself over the festive season. You don’t have to be around family and friends the whole time, and if you need to be away from others for a while, that’s perfectly okay.

You could go for a walk and get some fresh air, listen to some music quietly in your room or splurge at the Boxing Day sales. As long as it makes you feel happy and relaxed, that’s all that matters.

Do something special to remember them

Take the opportunity on Christmas Day to remember all the things you loved about your loved one and how they impacted your life.

Mental health organisation ReachOut suggests doing something that you used to do together, such as visiting their favourite park or going for a morning walk through a special part of town. You could even write them a letter detailing how you feel and what you’re doing to celebrate Christmas.

While it may seem strange to document your emotions, researchers say keeping them bottled up inside may cause confusion and emotional and physical distress.

“It [writing] can be helpful in determining patterns, relationships, health and emotional functioning,” a study published in Elsevier says.

Reflect and set goals

Take the opportunity to reflect on what you have achieved over the past year and what you’d like to achieve in the future. Start by setting yourself some goals – they can be big like travelling overseas, or as small as writing down something you’re grateful for each day.

Focusing on the negatives will only heighten your grief, whereas thinking about what life could be like in the future will give you hope. A study published in Psychiatry Online found goal-setting is associated with an increase in overall wellbeing.

“Developing new goals or achieving some short-term successes may lead to life satisfaction, even if life may look different to how it did before,” the study revealed.

Ask for help

If you find yourself struggling more than usual over the Christmas period, don’t be afraid to reach out for help. You could speak to a family member or friend or to a trained mental health professional.

Beyond Blue offers a telephone support service that is available 24 hours a day and an online chat platform which is available daily from 3pm to 12am. You can also speak to other community members who are experiencing the same feelings through their online forum.

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Have you lost someone close to Christmas? What advice do you have for others who are struggling this festive season?

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