Ricki Friedman offers five tips to cope with missing loved ones during the holiday season.
By Ricki Friedman
The holidays are a time of year many people look forward to, but for those experiencing grief and loss, the holidays can often feel overwhelming, painful and, in most cases, lonely. Why? Because being surrounded by family and friends is a constant reminder of the person who is no longer around.
After I lost my mother at 13, I decided that the holidays were not something I wanted to be part of. Every year between Thanksgiving to New Year’s, I would experience a deep loneliness that I had a hard time overcoming. I didn’t always know why I still felt so much pain even years later, but would eventually learn that grief is not a linear process and does not come with a timeline, especially during the big celebrations: holidays, birthdays, milestones.
It took me a long time to understand the way her death affected me, but healthier outlets and a shift in perspective helped me get there faster. When I was 27, I decided that it was OK to redefine what the holidays meant to me and that I was allowed and, more importantly, could be happy even if I felt moments of pain from the loss. This discovery changed my life because it helped me move forward in moments of distress and enjoy my life, and yes, even the holidays.
So, if you’re reading this and are dreading the celebrations to come, I want you to know you’re not alone, but also, that you don’t have to go through this time of the year with that heaviness. Yes, you’re going to be sad, and something will feel like it’s missing, because it is, but you can find moments of joy during this challenging time of the year.
Remember, it will get better because you are only getting stronger.
5 Ways to Manage Grief and Loss During the Holidays
1. Move your body, move your mood. For me, this was a game-changer. The more I took care of myself during this season and the month before, the more I could process the pain and move forward quicker from it. I decided that if I was going to feel down, then I’d have to at least do positive things with my pain. You should set up a time daily to sweat out the grief. It doesn’t need to be long exercise, just a dedicated 20-30 minutes a day to break a sweat. This will help you feel calmer through the tough moments. Make this part of your schedule.
2. Write how you feel. Writing down how you feel on paper can help you release those feelings from your mind. We often feel trapped by our own thoughts so when you see them on paper, it’s easier to move forward from them. You can do this in a journal or even on your phone. It doesn’t need to be a long entry. Sometimes even just writing, “I miss my mom today, and it really sucks,” can help you feel less weighed down.
3. Surround yourself with people and tell them how you feel. This is a big one because as much as you might want to isolate yourself, you need to push yourself to do the opposite. Surround yourself with people who make you feel good because you don’t need to do this on your own. Grief is lonely enough — don’t make it lonelier for yourself. Say yes to the people in your life, and tell them if you’re not feeling so great. Do not keep the pain to yourself! Remember, you can take time to yourself, and you should at certain points, but a community is key.
4. Do something for someone else. When we are in pain, we can be a little selfish. Not because we are selfish beings but because pain causes us to be caught up in only what we feel, and we forget about the rest of the world. Giving back to others is the quickest way to heal. It doesn’t need to be a big thing and can be as simple as helping a friend who needs you or signing up to volunteer. Do something daily for another person. It will fill you up in positive ways.
5. Dance it out. Seriously, put on some loud music every day and dance it out for 10 minutes. I do this a lot. If I feel sad or down, and I can dance, I put on my headphones and dance it out for 5 minutes if that’s all I have. This will help you experience moments of joy during a painful one and show you that it’s possible to have good times even in the midst of hard ones.
There are many little ways to get through the rough moments, but the biggest strategy besides having positive outlets, like the ones above, is having a positive mindset. I’ve learned that grief ebbs and flows, and that instead of thinking life is happening to me, I like to think it’s happening for me.
Your loss can be your greatest gain, but only if you let it.
Birmingham resident Ricki Friedman is the founder of Break the Weight, which helps people break the weight in their life — physically, mentally and emotionally. She created a 10-week program called the BREAKER program, which helps people transform their daily habits and mindset to live a happier life. She is writing a book on the experience of losing her mother.