Life

A psychologist says doing these 5 things helped her cope with grief during the holidays

Criene | Twenty20

While the holidays are a time express gratitude to friends, family and colleagues, it's also a time of reflection — which can be particularly challenging for those who are grieving.

Dealing with the recent loss of a loved one or the anniversary of a death is never easy, even for someone like me: a psychologist whose job is to help others handle this sort of stuff.

Fortunately, these coping strategies have helped pull me out of the holiday blues, and I hope they can do the same for you:

1. Reach out to people for support

In times of mourning, it's helpful to lean on others for support. It can be a close friend or someone you used to be close with, but have since lost touch with.

Spend time with them. Ask if you can join in on a holiday gathering. If you feel like your inner circle of friends and family is too small, consider inviting more people — perhaps new acquaintances. Others may be grieving, too, and they will appreciate being included.

2. 'Talk' to the person you lost

After my mother passed away, I wrote to her every night in my journal — about how I was doing, what was happening in my life, and how much I missed her. 

Releasing my internal feelings relieved my anxieties. I imagined her reading my words and smiling. I sometimes thought about what she'd say if she could write back. You don't even have to write in a journal. Simply saying the words out loud can help, too.

3. Switch things up

Holiday traditions are something to look forward to. But with the loss of someone you love, that's not exactly possible. So instead of forcing yourself to commit to the same tradition, consider starting something new.

After I lost a good friend of mine, I organized a gathering of people who were also close to that friend. Inviting each other to share happy memories about the person we missed was comforting. Also, being in each other's company made us feel less alone.

4. Count your current blessings

When we lose someone we love, it's temping to only focus on the negative things. But doing this will only make you feel worse.

Acknowledging the good things in your life is one of the greatest gifts you can give to yourself this year. It can be as significant as, "I'm grateful that I still have these people," or as small as, "This coffee mug that my mother gave me last year is so special."

5. Be active

Creating a coping toolbox is one of the most effective ways to handle grief. Unfortunately, it's an important step that many people skip.

If you planned on being cooped up in your home for the remaining days of the year, push yourself to experiment with new activities. Meet up with a friend. Try some breathing exercises. Take a pottery class. Go for a run in the morning. Bake some cookies. Listen to calming music.

If you encourage yourself to try a mix of new things, you'll eventually find something that can calm your anxieties when you start to feel distressed.

Kathy Nickerson is psychologist and relationship expert who has helped thousands of couples. Over the past 20 years, Kathy has presented marriage and relationship advice at more than 70 conferences, while authoring more than 85 books and articles on the topic.

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