The holiday season is supposed to be a joyous one, but it can often feel just the opposite for those who have experienced the loss of a loved one, according to an expert.
“There’s no right or wrong way to grieve,” said Brittney Schrick, University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture extension family life specialist. “Be patient with yourself or those around you who are grieving a loss.”
“Holidays can magnify feelings of grief and loss,” she said.
Schrick gives some advice on how to deal with grief during the holiday season.
Tell people what you need — “People want to help, but they may be doing just the opposite,” Schrick said. “Maybe you have a freezer full of food, so you don’t need another casserole, but you could use some help around the house or a visitor to keep you company.”
Schrick also advises to look for ways to keep in touch with friends and family that aren’t overwhelming to you, like texting, FaceTime or Skype or short visits.
Allow yourself to feel — “You may be tempted to put on a brave face for those around you, and there may be times when that is appropriate; however, if you’re feeling sad, that’s OK,” Schrick said. “Allow yourself to feel upset or sad or whatever you feel.”
Grief can show up in different ways depending on the person. Children are prone to display their feelings in ways that seem strange to adults and some may show grief through anger, frustration or very little emotion at all.
“There’s no correct way to experience or show grief,” Schrick said.
Set boundaries — You may feel obligated to attend holiday parties, but don’t feel up to it. Schrick suggests coming up with a Plan A and a Plan B for the event.
“If you are invited to a party you want to go to, plan to go, but allow yourself to change your mind if you don’t feel up to it on the day,” Schrick said. “Anyone who loves you will understand if you need to change your plans.”
Schrick also said it might be worth going to the event even if you don’t feel like it in the beginning.
“Give yourself permission to leave early if you feel overwhelmed,” Schrick said.
Reach out for help — If you are experiencing symptoms of depression such as a down mood that won’t go away, lack of interest in activities you used to enjoy, fatigue or lack of energy, changes in sleep or appetite, difficulty thinking or making decisions, or an increase in physical symptoms with no apparent medical reason, contact a doctor or local hospital.
“Especially if you have thoughts of suicide, contact a medical professional or reach out to a trusted friend or family member for help,” Schrick said. “Pay special attention to children who are grieving because depression symptoms may be different for children and include stomach aches, anxiety, and headaches.”
— Emily Thompson is with the U of A System Division of Agriculture.