While there is a whole heckuvalot of “Joy to the World” going on during this holiday season, I must admit that there is also a whole lotta “getting through” the holiday season, what with the gift giving, party going/giving, over consumption, etc.
To complicate things, milestone events (e.g., holidays, anniversaries, birthdays, etc.) are by their very nature reasons to reminisce. These times of reflection can result in an open invitation to reexperience the pain associated with (a recent or long-ago) loss. In other words, holidays can revive feelings of sadness or longing, even for those who have “finished” their grieving and moved on.
This emotional floodgate opening is called an “anniversary” reaction and is common, however the cascade of emotions that may be reactivated during this period can often be surprising.
Indeed, the mourning process is unique to each person. We all hold and release grief in our own way (and in our own time). There are, however, some consistencies in the way that people process grief. Beginning to understand the grieving experience, and taking gradual steps to address the natural pain associated with loss is a super important and integral component of recovering from grief.
Please know that grief reactions are expected and normal…yes, even when the flood of emotions can come out of (seemingly) nowhere and blindside you like a Mac truck. You are not cuckoo. I promise. It may help to know that generally, there are four different types of normal grief reactions:
- Dry mouth, tight throat, headaches, dizziness, or muscle aches
- Exhaustion, lack of energy, or weakness
- Heart palpitations, breathlessness, or gastrointestinal disturbances
- Hollowness in stomach, or tightness in chest Increase in/loss of appetite, or weight gain/loss
- Abandonment, loneliness, or hopelessness
- Emptiness, despair, numbness, sadness, or loss of ability for pleasure
- Helplessness, or loss of control
- Fear, anger, guilt, or shame
- Relief, yearning, anxiety, or shock
- Confusion, or inability to concentrate
- Sense of unreality
- Idealization, or preoccupation with thoughts of beloved
- Dreams of the beloved
- Search for meaning in life and death
- Agitation, angry outbursts, or over-reactivity
- Impaired work performance, impatience, or pacing
- Social isolation, or withdrawal from friends and relatives
- Avoiding conversation/talking constantly about beloved
- Avoiding reminders/seeking or carrying reminders of the beloved
The key to getting through the holidays (and sometimes, just getting through is in and of itself a great success) is acknowledging the pain and the normalcy of these grief reactions. If you notice that any of these reactions are staying with you for a prolonged period of time (more than a week or so), I would recommend seeking professional assistance to help you process everything.
Additionally, I would gently recommend that, to the best of your ability, that you try to:
- Be aware and kind with yourself (by allowing more private time or more time around who will listen with kind sensitivity)
- Exercise (even a short walk can make a huge difference)
- Maintain a healthy diet (watch your alcohol, caffeine and sugar intake)
- Open the windows (or go outside! Fresh air has a way of healing)
- Rest (nap in the middle of the day if your body needs it)
- Seek support (from family, friends or a professional if reactions persist)
- Enjoy small pleasures (from a massage to a sunset to a cup of tea)
Do what you can with what you have and know that you are not alone and that tomorrow is another day…and hopefully that day will have a Silver Lining or two.
- Doka, K. Disenfranchised Grief: Recognizing Hidden Sorrow. New York, NY: Lexington Books, 1989.
- Parkes, C.M. Bereavement: Studies of Grief in Adult Life. London, UK: Tavistock, 1999.
- “The Hospice of the Florida Suncoast,” January 1999.
- Worden, J. W. Grief Counseling and Grief Therapy: A Handbook for the Mental Health Practitioner 3rd ed. New York, NY: Springer Press, 2001.