When it’s NOT the most wonderful time of the year: strategies for sanity

Look around you.  Does everyone else seem joyful, festive, and full of holiday spirit?  Everyone, it seems, but you.  Perhaps someone important is missing from your life and you’re drowning in deep sorrow.  Perhaps you’re absolutely miserable.

The truth is that under the tinsel and behind the bows, this time of year can be particularly challenging for many people, especially grievers.  Your heart is broken even as you’re supposed to have a heart overflowing with good cheer.  So, how do you get through the holidays if you’re one of the millions of people who are grieving?  Use these strategies to help you navigate the darkness until light comes again.

Just Say No – If you don’t feel like doing it, DON’T DO IT.  Don’t go to the party.  Don’t buy gifts this year.  Don’t put up a tree.  Every year is different and you absolutely have the choice to say no.  And if you find yourself in a situation that is uncomfortable, then excuse yourself.  Leave early and get in your pajamas.

Breathe – Frequently stop and take long, low deep breaths.  Set a timer and enjoy sixty seconds of silence.  Use that time to just notice your breath:  breathing in and breathing out.  Enjoy the single minute of stillness.  You can also download a free app:  “one-moment meditation” offered by my friend Martin Boroson.

Notice a Little Magic in the Mayhem – Find a thread of magic every day that brings you a little comfort:  a favorite ornament, a light in a window, a song that makes you smile, a cookie.  Look for the one pleasant thread that will keep you tethered to this day.

Talk about your Loved One – Don’t be afraid to mention your loved one when you’re at a party or with friends and family.  People are reluctant to mention the deceased because they are afraid to ‘upset’ you.  They don’t realize that your loved one is always on your mind and that it’s healthy to reminisce.  Be the one to share memories and to encourage conversation.

Express your Feelings – Holding in pent up emotion is not healthy.  If you want to cry, let yourself cry.  If you need to express anger, write in a journal.  Try creative arts to express the many feelings you’re experiencing.  Use on-line sites such as Transcending Loss to connect with other grievers and talk about your feelings.  Letting yourself feel the pain and then finding expression for that pain is an important aspect to healing.

Light a Candle – Light a memorial candle at the holiday dinner table to honor the light of your loved one.  Remember that although their physical form has gone, they are very much still a part of your life.  Hold that love close to your heart and remember that your life has been enriched by their love.

Imagine – Close your eyes and imagine yourself in a beautiful and calm place.  Maybe it’s a favorite vacation spot, or even an imagined place of bliss.  Maybe you picture yourself with your deceased loved one at your side.  Place yourself in your mind’s eye in an environment that brings you peace.

Think Ahead – This season will pass, and then what?  Maybe the new year will bring some relief and maybe it won’t.  Imagining a year ahead without your loved one can be daunting.  So decide to do something nice for yourself right away in the new year:  schedule a massage or lunch out with a friend.  Or you might choose to invest in a program of wellbeing such as the one that my friend Rick Hanson is offering in 2015.

You are not alone if you’re wishing for the holiday season to be over.  Darkness is all around us . . . and yet, having just passed the winter solstice, you can know that light is returning.

Blessings, Ashley


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5 thoughts on “When it’s NOT the most wonderful time of the year: strategies for sanity

  1. Robin Botie

    These are the best strategies I’ve seen yet, Ashley. I especially like the magic thread-a-day one. If I tie all my daily magic threads together, I’ll have a string of days to carry me until the light returns. I think looking for the magic in a dark day is much better than trying to erase the day, the precious time we have. Cheers!

  2. Judith Nitchie

    Thank you. My sister died this year. The ‘holidays’ have been challenging, to say the least. Saying ‘no’ and then feeling bad has been my m.o. So helped me to hear it as a positive suggestion. Thank you!

  3. AshleyAshley Post author

    Excellent. Every year is different, so just be with what you need this year. Wishing you peace, Ashley

  4. liz

    Visit a local church, ask friends to pray for you, call a friend who knew your lost loved one, volunteer to serve a meal at a homeless shelter. Try to answer the phone even if you don’t feel like it. Your friend on the other end may just have the right message to break through your dark day.