Behavioral and Mental Health
Want to learn more about this at Kettering Health?
The holiday season magnifies our emotions.
The festoons of festivity draped along store aisles and ever-present holiday classics playing on TV bring some people to brim with joy and nostalgia. They welcome the holidays, eager to make beautiful memories and uphold lasting traditions.
For others, the idea of decorating cookies and receiving party invites makes them feel numb or fatigued. For them, the holiday season makes their chests tight with grief, offering unavoidable reminders that life is different. And nothing feels more isolating and confusing around the holidays than grief.
But Julie Manuel, clinical program manager at Kettering Health Behavioral Medical Center, wants you to know: “You’re not alone.”
“Grief is normal,” said Julie, “especially around the holidays.”
And this year, she’s seen more patients who say they’re typically happy and optimistic during the holidays. But this year, they’re asking her “Why am I tired and sad?” or “Where did my joy go?”
Grief, it would seem, has come to everyone’s home this year.
Grieving the unanimous loss of normalcy
This year has been difficult for countless people. Some lost homes. Others lost jobs. And many lost loved ones. Each loss creates deep emotional wounds that require “the slow, non-linear process of grief” to heal.
And this year, everyone—on some level—can relate to the feelings of loss because everyone has seen their version of normalcy change beyond their control.
“There’s a lot of grief, a lot of loss,” said Julie. “And it’s not just grief from losing a loved one that we’re seeing. We’re seeing grief from this unanimous loss of normalcy. Everyone has lost the life they knew in some way. And the troubling truth is that that version of ‘normal’ likely won’t return.”
The holidays will inevitably magnify those intense feelings of loss.
Which means, as Julie suggests, everyone has good reason to see their neighbors, their friends, and their families through the eyes of empathy.
“It’s important for people, especially this year, to know their co-worker, their friend, their loved one is likely fatigued. Or wrestling with being overwhelmed. They’ve lost what’s normal to them. Be patient.”
Embrace the process and make a plan
Grief, though universal, isn’t a one-size-fits-all experience.
“There’s no blueprint for processing grief. It happens as we allow it to happen,” said Julie.
This is especially important to remember as everyone navigates their own holiday-season hoopla: different family traditions and dynamics, seasonal sights and sounds, and deeply emotional experiences.
The best thing to do is remember your grief is not anyone else’s. Avoid comparing your holiday experience with someone else’s, which may mean avoiding social media for starters.
“Don’t compare your grief to someone else’s joy,” said Julie. “Instead, embrace that grief is a process and make a plan.”
The best plans, she says, are simple, which may feel counterintuitive.
Grief is heavy and intimating. Oftentimes, those in the thick of it often believe that the solution to grief should be as dramatic and cumbersome as grief itself. But the way forward, Julie suggests, is the opposite: it involves taking baby steps that acknowledge the difficulty of grief and the possibility of moving forward.
“If we can simplify the grief process, if we can practice doing a few simple things, it’ll help reduce and even release some of the severity of grief.”
Julie wants those going through grief to know there’s a sense of freedom that comes with recognizing that grief involves a process. Healing won’t happen overnight.
And the best way through the process is to make a plan that’s simple and gives you structure.
Practice the three C’s
Make your plan with your needs in mind—not the needs of others. As you build a plan, consider the “three Cs”: choose, connect, communicate.
- Choose: Choose what’s best for you. Even during dark bouts of grief, you still possess the dignity of choice. “Grief often brings the sense of loss of control,” said Julie. Make choices about what you can attend, join, and do—and what you can’t—to help reinstate some of that loss of control.
And remember that choosing what’s best for you may need the input of someone else committed to your well-being.
- Connect: “We’re wired for connection,” said Julie. And grief, especially during the holidays, intensifies feelings of loneliness, which often leads to isolation. It’s difficult but important not to remove yourself from others’ lives.
“No one wants to go to a party and constantly hear ‘How are you doing?’ But it’s important not to fake it when you’re asked.” And that honesty will help you and will help others help you.
- Communicate: “Put your needs out there. Say to others, ‘This is going to be awkward or weird, but this is what I need’,” said Julie. “Let folks know how you plan to respond to others who ask, ‘How are you doing?’’ The greatest difficulty with this, though, says Julie, is the vulnerability it requires.
Communicating however you can to your friends and family will help them know how best to come alongside you, especially when grief arrives. “And in those moments of breakdown or confusion,” said Julie, “talk about it. It’s how we heal.”
Have yourself the holiday you need
Grief transforms the traditions and memory-making we wait for each year into difficult reminders that life looks, sounds, and feels different.
The only thing that will make it worse is to hide or mask your grief.
Instead, Julie invites anyone who’s grieving this holiday season to remember that grief is difficult and that that’s enough.
Don’t be someone you’re not; You’re not a burden. You’re a person navigating loss, like many others.
This year, you may not have the merry and bright holiday you want, but you can take baby steps toward the holiday you need—toward healing.
Don't go through grief alone. We're here to help.Learn More about Behavioral- and Mental-Health Services at Kettering Health
The month's most popular health news, stories, and tips in your inbox.Sign Up