Approaching Your Uninvited Holiday Guest

young man feeling sad sitting near a christmas tree

Family, friends, good food and more – there are plenty of reasons to feel joy and gratitude during the holidays. Most photos and advertisements that we see around this time of year emphasize feelings of happiness.

Yet, there are plenty of reasons to feel nostalgic, longing or downright sad, as well - especially if you are experiencing grief.

Grief is often associated with losing a loved one - but you can feel grief during a number of major life changes. Perhaps you have a complicated relationship with your family, you are caring for someone with a serious illness, you recently lost your job or you just moved. All of these major life changes can trigger feelings of grief which are exaggerated at this time of year.

Below are our tips for approaching your uninvited holiday guest - grief.

  1. Acknowledge your feelings
    As a first step, it is important to accept the many feelings present at this time of year – the happy and the sad. Grief can feel like an empty pit. If you don’t acknowledge the crater in the middle of the room, you run the risk of falling into it and getting lost. Instead, acknowledge your feelings so that you can learn how to navigate them.

  2. Allow yourself to feel sad
    While grief and sadness may be your unplanned guests this year, invite them in. Allow yourself to feel sad, cry or miss the past.

    Too often, we push away sad feelings, trying to stay busy or think happy thoughts. Sadness is a normal human emotion that has a purpose and a message for you.

  3. Notice and observe
    Pay attention to things that trigger your grief. Keep a list on your phone to help you track your triggers.

    Is it a tradition, a song, the memory of a specific person – or the overwhelming holiday pressures? Learning about your triggers will help you uncover who or what you are missing – or why you are feeling sad.

  4. Recognize that you are not alone
    Once you have accepted your grief, you may notice others around you who share your feelings. Consider confiding in a trusted friend or family member.

    If you aren’t comfortable sharing with a friend - Chester County has a number of mental health resources, including a 24/7 hotline for mental health emergencies. A peer who understands how you feel is just a phone call away.

  5. Remember that you can feel sad while also feeling happy
    Humans are complex and feel multiple emotions at the same time. We can feel joy watching children experience the magic of the holidays. At the same time, we can miss ‘the way things used to be’ or feel overwhelmed by the pressure to create holiday magic for those around us.

    While it is important to recognize your sad feelings, it is also important to recognize that you can feel happiness and joy, along with the sad. Don’t forget to find what brings you joy and maximize it.

    Having fun does not take away from your sadness nor does it erase the memory of the person, place or thing that you miss most.

  6. Know that you won’t feel this way forever
    At times grief can feel huge, like a swelling wave that washes over everything. Other times grief is smaller but certainly still felt – like a sprinkle of rain on a sunny day.

    No matter the size of your grief this today, remember that you will not feel this way forever. Allow space for your feelings to change over time.

    Although your grief for who/what you are missing will change over time, your love for them never will.

Many of us feel grief and sadness along with you this year. You always have a friend at the Y – and we wish you much peace and healing.