Getting through Christmas is not easy if you are coping with Grief and associated Mental Health conditions like PTSD or Depression – with the forced jollity and endless pressure to get out and be merry.
Don’t get me wrong; I am not the Xmas Grinch. I thoroughly enjoy the splendour of Christmas beauty and the lovely twinkly vibes everywhere.
I do however see in many clients the difficulties and the strain that Christmas has on them. There are no rulebooks and how to cope is very much dependent on the person. Many have questions as to what is normal and what is not.
So I have written this short post to give you my tips to help you cope with your Grief during the festive season.
1. You don’t have to accommodate anyone else. Grief is a personal experience. Everyone travels through it in their own way and having to consider what other people expect or need from you at this time of year is an added pressure you do not need.
2. Look after yourself and know your limits. Know your people and be kind to you.
3. Don’t expect yourself to be sociable. If you can’t, you can’t, and that is OK.
4. Putting your Mental Health first means making sensible and self-loving choices.
5. If you want to celebrate Xmas, go ahead. If you would rather not, that is fine too.
6. What you may find helps to give you a little comfort is setting a new tradition to remember your loved one. Discuss this with your family and agree on what feels appropriate, loving and meaningful. This is really healing.
7. Talk about your loved one and do not fear your Grief. Allowing your friends or family to understand what it is like for you can help. Let your emotions be valid.
8. Grief does not go on hold because it is Xmas. In fact you may be feeling it more keenly. It may be the first Xmas without your loved one or it may be that you notice the years expanding and the yearning to see them and be with them and the realization of how much they are missing out on breaks your heart. So talk about them. Get your memory boxes out. Bring out the pictures. Put them up. Dedicate a table and put pictures of your loved one on display – them enjoying Xmas time. This is a little bit of comfort in a sea of sadness and it will remind you of the happy times.
9. Visit the grave and leave a gift that feels appropriate for you. Something like a festive wreath, or a scarf, or some winter flowers, some holly. Whatever speaks to you.
10. Prepare and enjoy your loved one’s favourite dish. Cook it if you can. Never mind if you make a mess of it. The joy is in remembering them.
11. Put an empty chair on the Xmas table for them.
12. Set up a “we remember you” bowl. Get everyone to write messages to the person who has died, remembering them in the notes. Put the notes in the bowl and read them out together on Xmas morning.
13. Do something charitable in their honour.
14. Practice doing 1 kind thing a day. This really helps to alleviate sadness and comfort you in your time of distress.
15. Explain to the children that it is OK to miss the person who has died. Explain their grief. They may be confused at conflicting feelings during this season. Normalise it for them. Explain that they may be gone but they are definitely not forgotten and will always be with us in our hearts.
16. Go on a daily walk and get the body moving.
17. Do not drown your sorrows with alcohol. This will numb you but won’t actually help. In fact it will do damage to your Mental Health and Physical health.
18. Explain to your family how you are feeling and ask for help. It is OK. Be specific and do not be afraid. They will understand.
19. If you need someone to take the children away for a couple of hours on Xmas day, plan it and do it. This is OK. People understand.
20. Do not isolate yourself. On bad days, take time to let your grief come out. It needs to be processed. Talk to your loved one who has died. Write to them. Journal your feelings out. It helps.
21. Do not have unrealistic expectations of yourself. It is OK for you to not be OK.
22. Change the scene, travel, do something out of your norm to expand your horizons.
23. Give yourself permission to smile, to live, to connect. You have a life and it is OK to move forward with it. Nobody will judge.
24. Trust that you will get through it. You will.
Dr Chloe Paidoussis Mitchell CPsychol is a leading grief and trauma psychologist working in the UK. Most recently she was appointed as the clinical lead for the Overcoming Grief app and has developed strong expertise in delivering digital mental health apps. Chloe is very happy to answer any questions. If you want to get in touch, don’t hesitate.