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. And, there are plenty of reasons to feel nostalgic, longing or downright sad, as well.

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 the crater so that you can learn how to navigate it.

  2. Recognize that you are not alone
    Once you have acknowledged your own feelings, you may start to notice others around you who are feeling a bit blue. Try sharing your feelings with 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.

  3. Allow yourself to feel sad – and observe
    While grief and sadness might be uninvited 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.

    Pay special attention to what triggers your grief. Is it a tradition, a song, the memory of a specific person – or the overwhelming feeling of holiday pressures? Understanding your triggers will help you uncover who or what you are missing – or why you are feeling sad.

  4. Honor the person/place/thing that makes you feel sad
    Once you understand your sadness, you can decide if and how you want to honor the person, place or thing that you miss.

    Are you missing a relative that you recently lost to death, divorce or estrangement? Find a way to honor a tradition that you had with that relative. For example, if you are missing your grandmother, take turns sharing memories around the dinner table - or invite family over to cook one of her favorite recipes.

    If you are nostalgic for your childhood, plan a night to watch your favorite holiday specials – or find a way to honor what you miss most about the holidays of the past.

    Or if your grief is tied to something that you are presently going through – like caring for a loved one with a serious illness – find a way to take a break. You can do something small like reading a book or taking a long bath. You can do something medium-sized like committing to exercise one day per week. Or you can do something big like getting away from it all for a night. Choose something that will help you reset and come back with a fresh outlook.

  5. Understand 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.

    The holidays are a lot. And they bring out a lot in 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. Recognize that you won’t feel this way forever
    Grief stays with us for a long time – possibly forever. But grief does not always feel the same. At times grief can feel like a swelling wave that washes over everything. Other times grief is smaller and unseen but certainly still felt – more like a sprinkle of rain on a sunny day.

    No matter the size of your grief this year, remember that you will not feel this way forever. Allow space for this year’s feelings to change over time. Although your grief for who/what you are missing will change, your love 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.