Grieving during the holidays: Top 10 tips for surviving the festive season

Christmas carols will tell you ‘it’s the most wonderful time of the year’, but the festive season can be stressful in the best of circumstances, let alone when you’re grieving.

The thought of juggling family members, buying presents, cooking and attending get-togethers can feel overwhelming for everyone. However, if you’re widowed, the extra energy, concentration and organisation required for these additional responsibilities might leave you wishing you could hide from the world until well into the new year. 

We know how hard the holidays can be, so we’ve put together some tips to help you get through it. 

A big thank you to our wonderful community for sharing the things that have been a comfort to you during this time of year.

1. Accept it’s going to be hard.

The festive season is often a time when we gather together with family and friends, so it makes it even more noticeable that our loved one is missing. Don’t feel the need to pretend everything is ok when it isn’t. It’s ok to admit to yourself and anyone else that it’s a really hard time and you’re struggling.

2. Set boundaries.

Some family members can have an uncanny knack of ignoring or walking over boundaries. It can be hard to enforce limits that you are comfortable with, but it’s more important than ever to look after your needs. Be assertive and hold your ground if there’s something you’re not comfortable with.

3. Don’t try to do everything. 

The day will not be ruined if Elf on the Shelf or the homemade rum balls don’t make an appearance. Make a list of what really needs to be done and place everything else to one side this year.

4. Ask for help.

You don’t need to do everything on your own. Ask your trusted family members and friends if they can give you a hand. Chances are they want to help, but don’t know how, so giving them a specific task will help them feel useful, such as taking your children on a special outing to buy you a surprise Christmas gift (with the added bonus of some rest or catch-up time for you)

5. Create your own safe space. 

No matter where you are, locate a private area you can sneak off to if you need a timeout. Perhaps it’s a bedroom or somewhere in the backyard. Wherever it is, word up someone you trust and come up with a sign or a code word for when you’re going to duck off for some breathing space, so they can manage everyone else and leave you in peace. You may find that knowing you have an escape route available is enough to take the pressure off, and you don’t actually need to use it. 

6. Have your answers ready.

Some people unfortunately don’t have much tact, or simply just don’t know when a question or comment is inappropriate or hurtful. Protect yourself and take some time to think about how you’ll  respond to any blunt or inappropriate questions. And remember, saying you don’t want to talk about it is a perfectly acceptable response.

7. Breathe.

We often forget to do this most basic function during times of stress. Find time to check in with yourself and take five deep breaths. It’ll help calm and regulate your nervous system.

8. Include your loved one in the festivities.

Did they have a favourite holiday meal or tradition? Consider honouring them in whatever way feels good for you. Having a photo of them on or near the table might help you to feel like they’re being included. Or place their favourite chocolate at everyone’s place setting to celebrate a simple thing that brought them joy. 

9. Take it one day at a time.

Christmas parties, catch-ups with friends, end-of-year work events… this time of year is a juggling act. Perhaps you RSVP’d yes to several functions with every hope of attending, but then the day of one of them rolls around and you just don’t feel up to going. That’s ok. Get some sleep and see how you feel the next day.

10. Be proud of yourself. 

This is a really hard time of year, particularly with so many images of ‘happy families’ or people ‘coming home’ portrayed in the media and in your day-to-day environment. Practice self care, be kind to yourself and be proud of the fact you’re getting through it however and whichever way you can.

Bonus tip: Know that if this year is hard for you, that doesn’t mean you will always feel like this. Our grief changes over time, as do we. 

If you need some extra support, know that the First Light community is here for you. Learn about our programs here.

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