The holiday season, often a time of joy, celebration and togetherness, will be very different for many, and a struggle for thousands. 2020 has been a difficult year for millions with the coronavirus pandemic taking hold, but even worse for those who have devastatingly lost loved ones. When you have lost a loved one, the first (and any) holiday season can be extremely difficult, and with the added strain of social restrictions due to the coronavirus crisis, Christmas in 2020 will be a struggle for many. If you have sadly lost a loved one, whilst there is no way to alleviate that pain completely, there may be ways to help you better cope and manage your grieving process over the holiday season.
Grief over Christmas 2020 is exacerbated by the fact that we are still in a global pandemic, so many coping mechanisms, such as simply hugging family members or staying with loved ones may not be possible. This can add a lot of stress and hardship onto an already agonizing time. Grief can have a physical effect on our bodies as well as our minds, causing fatigue, irritability, sleep problems and even weaken our immune system.
First and foremost, one of the most important things but also difficult strategies is to take care of yourself – from all angles. Try to eat properly, try to sleep well, continue to exercise and engage in activities that are beneficial to you. By looking after your body, you can help alleviate some of the mental health issues associated with grief, such as stress, anxiety and depression, not to mention avoid feeling worse. It is important however, to let yourself grieve, face the emotions you are feeling and try not to feel guilty or ashamed of them. Be compassionate to yourself.
Self-care also includes putting yourself and your process first. Abandon your expectations of what the holiday ‘should’ look like and make it suit you at this time. If you need to limit social time in order to process your grief in your own way do so. You can also set up Christmas in a way that best suits you. Start new traditions. Change the rules. You don’t necessarily have to engage with traditions or the prescribed Christmas set up, rather you can make sure you enjoy the day in a way that best suits you – if that includes skipping it altogether, do so. Some suggest that even planning ahead may better help you cope with holiday scenarios, whether that is making sure you leave a social gathering early to avoid feeling overwhelmed, or set aside some time just for you.
Some may be able to rely on friends, family member or loved ones during this time, but others may be facing the struggle alone, and some may, need more people in their lives that better understand the situation that they are facing. Whilst loved ones may be able to sympathize, you may be craving a place where you can let your mask down and find others that truly understand the depth of your pain. Support groups that allow you to interact with people who are also experiencing grief may better enable you to do this. In-person support groups are helpful but under the circumstances of COVID-19 may not be possible at this time, however, there are plenty of online support groups that may also help, such as Grieving.com and Griefincommon.com.
If you do have people around you that can support you, that is fantastic. Allow yourself to grieve in whatever way you need to, set healthy boundaries for yourself and your social time. If you would like to talk about the situation, do so. If you want to remember the good times, explain that to your family. If you would rather not join in certain activities or would prefer to keep your social time at a limit, do so. If you can, explain this to your loved ones so that they can better support you in your grieving process. If you cannot see your loved ones during the pandemic, reach out virtually.
It is also important that, if needed, you look to seek professional help when coping with grief.
Setting a time to memorialize your loved one, could be beneficial in coping with your pain. This can be done before or after the holidays, or if you feel up to it, perhaps memorialise them for a set period of time during your celebrations. Speaking to Healthline, Camille Wortman, emeritus professor of psychology at Stony Brook University suggested: ‘having everyone write a statement about what they loved about the person and reading it aloud virtually or outside at a meaningful place. Taking toys to a local hospital in honor of a child who’s passed is another idea. “Each family will come up with something that feels special to them. The point is that honoring them before or after the holidays helps [alleviate] feeling bad about not doing so on the holiday, as well as helps from trying to feel happy on the holiday as you’re honoring the loss of someone. This pushes that all out of the equation,” Wortman said.’