Taking care of your mental health is challenging throughout the year but can be especially taxing during the holidays. While gathering with friends and family, the absence of the ones we’ve lost is magnified, and the grief can all but overtake us. After the death of a loved one, there can be an emptiness in our hearts and lives that seem as if it will never be filled without them. Grief affects us both emotionally and physically. It can be felt in the body and can show up as an increase in sensitivity to sight, sound, and touch, as well as a decrease in appetite and sleep changes including an inability to sleep and increased nightmares. We might feel the urge to isolate, dissociate and struggle in silence as we deal with the difficult stages of grief and the guilt that often accompany loss. Grief and loss are not easy, but there is hope, and with time and support things do get better. There are a few proven techniques that can help alleviate the strong and often negative emotions that threaten our mental stability during these difficult times.
The first and maybe most important is reaching out for help when things get too overwhelming to manage on your own. Help can look like talking with a friend you trust, reaching out to a member of the clergy or finding a therapist.
Second, avoiding isolation. While it can be tempting to retreat into your shell, being with friends and family can be effective in helping to process and cope with the pain of loss
Third, avoiding the urge to accelerate the grieving process. There is no timeline on your grief, and this process cannot be rushed. Honor yourself and your loved one by giving yourself the permission and time you need to grieve.
Fourth, honor the ones you’ve lost in a way that is comfortable for you. That could be writing them a letter, looking at old photos, cleaning out their closet. This is a difficult step, but an important one that can sometimes be overlooked because it can be so painful.
Finally, be patient with and kind to yourself. The guilt that sometimes accompany grief can tempt us to be angry with ourselves and force us to lament about missed opportunities and all the “should haves.” In those moments, think about what that loved one would want for you and honor them by loving yourself the way they loved you.
Know that love is eternal and while the person you love is gone, the love you shared is not. The time and memories you shared with that person is not lost either. If you find yourself absorbed by your grief, spend time with it, journal and sit with it. Let the tears and memories flow and know that in those moments you are on your path to growth, healing, and peace.
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