It is no secret that many of us find the holidays stressful even when we are not grieving. However if you are trying to survive grief during the holidays, here are five tips to help you reduce your suffering and approach this holiday season mindfully.
- Schedule your downtime. Taking some time out for yourself is the first step to reducing stress. Whether you choose to set aside a whole day to be by yourself on a private retreat, or take 10 minutes in the morning to sip a cup of tea and simply breathe, write your plan down on a calendar or set up a reminder in your smart phone. It is just too easy to put yourself last on the list when there are so many tasks to tackle. During one holiday season myself and a dear friend were grieving. For me it was my stepfather, for her it was her sister. We scheduled time on Christmas Eve to meet in my yoga studio and create vision boards out of magazines by candlelight. We laughed and cried and it was wonderful. Surrounded by papers and scissors, we had a mini retreat where we could relax and it was all about us. There are many ways you can take time out for yourself. Whatever you choose to do, schedule it and don’t cancel on yourself! Treat yourself as you would a best friend in need.
- Reflect on your traditions. For most of us holidays are about traditions that are rooted in our family or spiritual history. Some of them are so ingrained we approach them habitually, while others require great effort and take a village to deploy. When we lose someone we love who was part of our holiday scene, traditions are either carried on, changed or archived. Discuss with those close to you if there are any traditions you wish to put aside for now, or if there are any new ones you wish to establish in your loved one’s honor. You may want to have less responsibilities this holiday season, and skip a few this year, or maybe your current traditions bring you joy. Consider each one mindfully. You will deepen your connection to the ones you keep and feel relief when you let go of the ones you don’t.
- Fortify your immune system with meditation. When you are sick or stressed out, everything seems worse. Help your body help itself by meditating daily. Practicing for just 20 minutes a day can boost your immune system and calm an anxious mind, but even five minutes a day can help. Meditation in this context can be as simple as finding a quiet room and observing your breath the way you would observe ocean waves: coming and going. Sure, you are going to get distracted by your thoughts, and it may be hard to stay focused on your breath continuously for the whole time, but doing it perfectly is not the point. It is okay, normal even, to be distracted. The goal is to remember to start again and to let your breath be a safe haven – and to enjoy a period of time each day where you don’t have to do anything at all. This is important during any stressful time, and can have positive effects on your mind and body. Additionally, try to avoid alcohol, as it can impact your mood an ability to get a good night’s sleep.
- Confide in your journal. Feeling short tempered or frustrated with others is not uncommon when you are grieving, or during the holidays for that matter. Unfortunately we tend to take our frustration out on others, and only continue the cycle of suffering. Writing can help you process your feelings. Each night take some time to write in a journal. Let it be a stream of consciousness, and imagine your true thoughts and feelings can float to the surface and out onto the page. This will let you externalize any emotions that are building up, and allow you to respond, rather than react, to any tension or negativity before it ferments. You can be honest in your grief journal without hurting anyone’s feelings, are explore the validity of the “story.” Your journal is your best confidant. It will not judge you, and can be a safe place to work through the myriad of emotions that show up. If it feels right, take some time to make a list of things of which you are grateful, or happy memories with the person you lost. Grief is not always dark – sometimes the good memories show up too – and we learn to take time to appreciate the people we have left in our lives.
- Practice compassion through communication. If someone you love has died chances are many of the people you will spend the holiday with are also affected by the same loss. To avoid misunderstandings and hurt feelings, it can be helpful to discuss ahead of time how each person is relating to the season and what each person needs. Some family members may need more time alone while others will crave company. This can also be a good time to just check in on how each person is experiencing their grief, regardless of the holiday season. No matter what your spiritual beliefs are, this time of year is the season of compassion and caring. Spend a little extra time just talking to the ones you love will go a long way to healing yourself and those around you. Prepare for this by practicing metta meditation – also known as the Prayer of Loving-Kindness.
The reality is this holiday will not be like the last, but you can survive, and may even be able to enjoy reconnecting with loved ones. Take care of your body, communicate with loved ones, and if a little light shines in, know that is ok too.