Coping with holiday grief and depression

December 21, 2022 | by Jill Kottmeier, MS, BSN, RN, CPLC
Categories: Healthy Driven Minds

This blog originally appeared on the Healthy Driven Chicago website. 

For many people, the holiday season is far from the most wonderful time of the year. If you’re grieving the loss of a loved one, it can serve as a reminder that someone is missing. If you’re battling depression or another behavioral health condition, the holidays can lead to extra stress, worry and anxiety.

Although there’s a lot of pressure to have the perfect holiday season, it’s important to remember that the holidays look different for everyone. Take care of yourself and do what makes you feel good – even if it doesn’t align with expectations of others.

When things get overwhelming, going back to the basics can help. Here are some steps you can take to survive the holiday season:

  • Set realistic expectations – If you’re suffering through grief or depression, the holiday season won’t look the same as previous ones. Remind yourself that it’s okay that things are different and give yourself permission to have space for feelings other than joy or happiness.

  • Pace yourself – The holidays are filled with the expectation of being able to do it all: buy thoughtful gifts, decorate your home and delight your family and friends with home-cooked meals and treats. Keep in mind that you can say no and avoid taking on more responsibilities than you can handle. Setting boundaries will help protect your physical and mental health.

  • Prioritize the important activities – During the holidays, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by invitations and activities you’re expected to attend. But trying to do it all can make you feel worse. Instead, pick a few events and activities that bring you comfort and joy and say no to the rest.

  • Avoid the comparison game – Comparing the past with your current reality will likely cause more pain. Another thing to avoid is making comparisons with what you see on social media. If going on social media during the holidays causes you pain, consider taking a break from it during the holidays.

  • Volunteer time to help others – Volunteering is a wonderful activity that fuels the soul. During times of grief or depression, it’s easy to feel like nothing good is left in the world. But focusing on someone else’s needs can give you purpose and help you feel better.

  • Limit alcohol consumption – During the holidays, there’s more societal pressure to increase alcohol intake. In the short term, alcohol can make you feel good. But in the long term it will affect your physical and emotional health. Try to stick with one drink per day or even consider going dry for the holidays if you’re suffering with grief and depression.

  • Spend time with loved ones – Find a handful of people you feel safe with and connect with them. Keep in mind that many times, the people you expect to support you in your grief and pain don’t always show up. This can be painful, but there will be others who can provide support. It might be someone completely different from who you expect. Put your focus on the people who can hold space for your pain.

  • Take care of yourself – Especially when you’re in the space of grief or depression, it’s important to eat healthy foods, exercise daily and get enough sleep. If it’s too overwhelming to do everything, focus on one thing each week.

  • Create new traditions – This might be choosing to skip a holiday celebration or even travel somewhere new during the holidays. Find new ways to honor yourself and find what fuels your mind, body and spirit.

  • Honor your loved one – If you are grieving, find a way to incorporate your loved one into the holidays. For example, light a candle in their honor, set a place for them at the table, do a random act of kindness in their name or gather loved ones to share stories and memories.

If you or a loved one is suffering from grief or depression, turn to your family and friends for support. You might also consider checking out a local support group. There’s also a place for solitude and working through things on your own. The most important thing is to understand what is the best fit for you.

The therapists at Linden Oaks Behavioral Health and NorthShore University HealthSystem are also available to help you work through grief and depression.

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