How to Get Through the Holidays When Life Doesn't Seem So Merry

Many people are excited about this time of year.  Time for good food, visiting with family and friends, and maybe even a little shopping.  However the holidays can be a very difficult time for many.  The holidays come with traditions, lots of memories, and a time when we miss our loved ones the most. 

  • Is this the first holiday you are spending post divorce?

  • Is it your first holiday where you’re children are at your ex’s house?

  • Is this the first holiday since the passing of a loved one? Maybe it’s the 7th holiday of the passing of a loved one, and the holidays are still hard to get through. 

It is important for you to recognize the changes in the year and the feelings you are experiencing during the holidays.  While everyone else seems to be “merry and bright”, it’s important to know that it’s OK to take a step back and reflect on where you are. 

Woman alone and depressed during the holidays looks up at sparkling lights.

5 ways to help you through this holiday season:

  • If It’s Different, Make it Different-  If this is the first year you won’t be able to create your traditional holiday then mix it all up altogether.  If you will be alone without children for the holidays, think of fun activities to do to keep yourself busy.  Here are some fun ideas to mix up your holiday:

    • Volunteer at a Soup Kitchen so you are surrounded by people.

    • Always serve Turkey? Order Chinese Food and give your meal a little Kung Pao!

    • Say “Yes” to invitations.  Office Holiday Party- Say Yes.  Neighbor invites you for dinner- Say “Yes”.  You may surprise yourself at what a fun time you will have.

    • Go to a Movie

    • Support a Local Toys for Tots Drive

  • Honor The Person Who’s Passed - If this is your first holiday without a loved one then find a special way to honor them.  Take time with your family to share holiday stories about them, or even recreate their favorite dishes of the season.  Pretending you aren’t sad does not make the sadness go away.  Sharing your sadness and reaching out to others will help ease the pain.  Chances are you aren’t the only person missing them, and talking about it with someone may ease their pain too. 

  • Take a Trip - If you are always used to a holiday at home and pieces of your family may be missing, use this time to go explore somewhere new. Have you ever visited a winter wonderland? Visit Colorado, or New York.  Tired of the cold and gray? Pack your bags for Arizona or Florida! Visiting some place new may be just the change of scenery you need.

  • Host Military Personnel - Many times those serving in our military are not able to travel for the holidays.  Their leave is often so short that they cannot make it home and back in time to report for duty.  Contact your local Military Office and see if there are soldiers staying local who could use a place to visit and celebrate a holiday. 

  • Use this time to Process your Grief - A loss of any kind may result in sadness.  It is important to process your loss and acknowledge the feelings you have regarding your changes.  Here are some ideas on ways to process your grief:

    • Read - There are many books on Amazon, or at your local library on surviving the holidays after losing a loved one.

    • Write - Start a journal or write a letter to your lost loved one saying all the things you wish you could if you could see them one last time. 

    • Local Tree of Lights - Check with your local hospital if they celebrate with a tree of lights- a ceremony to honor those who have passed.

    • Contact Hope Therapy Center - The holidays may have brought to light how difficult things are right now.  Maybe you didn’t even realize you miss your ex spouse until now.  Working with a Therapist will help you identify your feelings and support you through this difficult time.

Whatever you choose to do this Holiday Season, we wish you Health and Happiness!

Photo by Krissara Lertnimanorladee on Unsplash

What is Grief?

By definition grief is “deep sorrow”.  Most commonly people associate grief with the death of a loved one.  However there are many other moments in life where you may find yourself grieving.  Grief can come after the end of a marriage/relationship, the loss of a pet, a debilitating injury, an early miscarried pregnancy, the inability to have children, the discovery a child has special needs, or sometimes people grieve for a parent who was never present in their life- maybe a parent they never met.  Grief can take on many forms and one type is not more difficult than another to experience.  All are tough.

As humans we like to make meaning of the world around us.  We like to intellectualize, and put the confusing world we live in into concrete terms.  After the death of a loved one you may hear people say, “He died so quickly, it is so much easier knowing he didn’t suffer”.  You may also hear, “He lived a long life, and it is so much easier knowing we all had enough time to say goodbye”.  Whether your loved one was taken unexpectedly or they had a terminal illness and you had time to prepare- the deep sorrow felt after the loss is no easier in either scenario.  As humans, we try to find a way to have grief make sense.  Maybe there is a lesson to be learned.  Maybe this happened for a reason.  Sometimes bad things just happen and we are left to pick up the pieces. 

Close up of woman crying in grief over the death of a loved one.

What are the stages of grief?

If you are experiencing grief you may recognize yourself in one of these stages. The five stages, denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance are tools to help us frame and identify what we may be feeling.

Denial - In this stage, the world becomes overwhelming. Life makes no sense. We are in a state of shock and denial. We go numb. We wonder how we can go on, if we can go on, why we should go on. We try to find a way to simply get through each day. Denial and shock help us to cope and make survival possible.

Anger - Anger is a necessary stage of the healing process. Be willing to feel your anger, even though it may seem endless. The more you truly feel it, the more it will begin to dissipate and the more you will heal. Underneath anger is pain.

Bargaining - Bargaining is wanting life returned to what is was; we want our loved one restored, our marriage saved. We want to go back in time: find the tumor sooner, recognize the illness more quickly, stop the accident from happening…if only, if only, if only. The “if onlys” cause us to find fault in ourselves and what we “think” we could have done differently. We may even bargain with the pain. We will do anything not to feel the pain of this loss.

Depression - In this stage empty feelings present themselves, and grief enters our lives on a deeper level, deeper than we ever imagined. Depression after a loss is too often seen as unnatural: a state to be fixed, something to snap out of.  Your deep sorrow may be a very depressing situation, and depression is a normal and appropriate response.

Acceptance - This stage is about accepting the reality that we have experienced deep sorrow and recognizing that this new reality is the permanent reality. We will never like this reality or make it OK, but eventually we accept it. We learn to live with it.  Acceptance does not mean you will never shed another tear, but it does mean that life begins to move again. 

Remember, how someone experiences grief is as unique as they are. Keep in mind, these stages are not linear.  There is not a defined order. You may experience them all, or only a few.  What you may consider deep sorrow may be different for you than it is for another.  It is important to know that all feelings are ok and need to be expressed.

How can Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) help with grief?

Cognitive behavioral therapy is designed to help you understand your thoughts and feelings experienced through the grieving process. This type of therapy is designed to encourage the exploration of feelings about the occurrence in order to deal with anger and anxiety resulting from the event.  Many times therapists provide clients techniques for relaxation and coping to help manage feelings of anxiety and depression. You may learn how to think about your loss in a new way and reach a point where you are able to accept it and move forward in your life.

Are you grieving the loss of a loved one? The ending of a marriage/relationship? Hope Therapy Center specializes in CBT and grief counseling.  Contact us today.