While most of the world is celebrating the start of a new year, those of us who are grieving may be feeling not so joyous. As with other holidays, anniversaries, and days that end in -day, feeling sad, angry, anxious, resistant, confused, detached, or any other difficult emotion is par for the course when you are grieving. Instead of fighting the reality that things are different, let go a little, and allow yourself to do things a little differently from before. Here are a few ideas:
- Focus on self-care over self-improvement. This year, you may want to skip the typical New Year’s resolutions and instead, focus on self-care for your grieving mind, body, and spirit. Simple things like getting good sleep, eating nourishing food, and exercising a little bit each day will help your body and mind support you during loss, but do these things with an attitude of self-care instead of self-improvement, which is often implied in our resolutions. Don’t add to your suffering by trying to attain an unrealistic goal. Instead, treat yourself as you would treat a beloved friend in the same position.
- Create your own mantra to replace “Happy New Year.” If you are like most grieving people, the idea of being happy is a bridge too far from where you are right now, but since you are going to hear these words, again and again, you may as well incorporate them into your self-care practice. Instead of feeling bad for not feeling happy, or angry that someone would assume you could feel happy, use these three ubiquitous words as a reminder to send yourself compassion. Try this: Each time you see or hear “Happy New Year,” offer yourself words of kindness that resonate with you. For example, “May I treat myself with kindness this year,” or “May I have a Compassionate New Year,” or simply “This is hard and I am doing my best.” This not only puts you back in the driver’s seat so you have a modicum of control over your experience but is a great bell of awareness that can remind you to take care of yourself.
- Know that you are not leaving your loved one behind. When you cross the threshold of a new year without your special person by your side, it can feel like you are leaving them behind. That isn’t the case. Yes, the annual change of the calendar is a marker that time is passing, but you will never forget your special person, no matter how many years go by. Take some time out early this year to reflect on the ways you carry your special person with you. What habits, likes, dislikes, hobbies, or mannerisms do you share with them? What are your favorite memories of your time together? If they are a blood relative, in what ways do you look like them? They have left their mark on your heart, and that will never go away.
- Prioritize your grief-work with your new calendar. Instead of just scheduling things you have to do, use your new calendar to plan what you need to do to support yourself this year. While none of us have a crystal ball, many people find holidays and anniversaries especially challenging. Record them on your calendar, and plan how you want to spend those special days. Whether scheduling coffee with a supportive friend on your loved one’s birthday or gathering a group of survivors together to reminisce on the anniversary of their death, knowing what you are going to do on these special grief-days may help reduce your anxiety. You can also plan ahead to attend grief support groups and memorial events through your local hospice or grief group. Even if the groups don’t start for a while, get them on your calendar now, before work and social obligations take over. You can also block off self-care time for a massage, meditation, journaling, or just free time to do as you wish.
- Steady your mind in the present with meditation. The human brain is rarely fully present, and this is especially true when we are grieving. Part of us wants to fast forward and leave this awful time behind, but an even bigger part wants to turn around and sprint back to the time when our loved one was still alive. The reality, of course, is that we can’t control the passing of time, but we can control what we do with our attention. In the meditation world, we call this bouncing around “monkey mind”, and although it is just a side-effect of being human, it rarely reduces our suffering. There are countless ways you can learn to tame your mind with meditation, but I find that in the early days, months and even years of grief, focusing meditation practices can be especially helpful. Try this: with your eyes open or closed, turn your attention toward your breath. As you breathe in, silently say to yourself – In. As you breathe out, silently say to yourself – Out. Do this over and over each time you breathe, for 3-5 minutes. When your monkey mind wanders off, find your breath again and start over. It doesn’t matter how often you need to begin again. After a few minutes, you may feel calmer and more in control of your own mind.