Many people are filled with joyful anticipation and festive good cheer at this time of the year. But some are filled with anxiety and dread, and wish to get the holidays over with as quickly and uneventfully as possible.
They may have lost a loved one or experienced some other upheaval, such as physical or mental illness, unemployment or financial problems, involuntary relocation or the breakdown of an important relationship.
Their emotions put them completely out of step with those around them, further intensifying their sense of grief and isolation.
More than any other time of the year, the Christmas season embodies family togetherness and is steeped in ritual and tradition. It’s a time of reaching out to others in a spirit of caring and generosity. But how can you embrace this spirit when you are hurting or feel empty inside?
The following is some advice.
Acknowledge that this year is different; don’t try to act as if nothing has changed. Be prepared to lower your expectations.
Accept your feelings, including ups and downs from one moment or day to the next. Face your heartache and allow the tears to come, knowing they are a necessary part of healing.
Resist the urge to isolate yourself. It’s important to stay connected to people who care. But do let loved ones know your limitations.
Evaluate the meaning of the season in your life. Decide what is most important to you, focus on it and forget the rest this year. Some people find it comforting to continue with familiar traditions, while others prefer to start new ones or mix old and new. Do what feels right for you.
Keep in mind that traditions are especially important to children during times of upset, providing them with much needed comfort and security. So although certain practices might now be a source of discomfort or hold little meaning for some of the adults in your family, they may still be worth continuing, perhaps with modifications.
Plan ahead to help reduce anxiety and stay focused. Whatever holiday-related tasks you decide to take on, ask for help and delegate responsibilities. Make lists to keep organized. Grief saps energy and affects concentration, and you don’t want to create more stress for yourself.
Set aside quiet time each day. Nurturing your spirituality in this way will help keep you grounded.
If you accept an invitation, do so on the condition that you may back out at the last minute if you don’t feel up to the occasion. Since it’s impossible to predict how much energy you will have, be flexible and give yourself an out. Take things one day, and one event, at a time.
Guard your health. Overindulging in food or alcohol or getting insufficient sleep will only make you feel worse. Regular exercise, on the other hand, will help you feel better.
Express your emotions. Find someone who will listen and empathize, or write down your thoughts and feelings in a journal.
Turn to your faith for comfort, whether it’s through private prayer, reflective reading, listening to hymns, attending Mass more frequently or talking with your pastor.
Try to focus on the spiritual aspects of the season rather than those you find stressful or can’t relate to.
Consider doing something nice for someone. Many people find it helps take their mind off their own situation for a while.
Take responsibility for your well-being by doing something nice for yourself.
Look for moments of joy and laughter, and relish them. Don’t allow feelings of self-pity, bitterness or guilt to get the upper hand and rob you of the ability to feel pleasure. It’s okay to experience enjoyment.
If you take time now to anticipate events and your reaction to them, and plan some coping strategies, you will make it through the Christmas season — perhaps even better than you expected. Just remember that there is no right or wrong way to do things.
Since everyone responds differently to loss and stress, be gentle with those around you who may also be hurting.