Congratulations! For those who are coping with grief, you made it through one of the most reportedly challenging times of the year. It is important to note that making it through the holidays after the loss of a loved one is a feat in itself. Whether it was Christmas, Hanukkah, Eid, Diwali or others, these events may have triggered intense and uncomfortable reactions after your loss. Before the holidays, many bereaved persons may have felt as though they could not make it through these events without their loved one because of the intense pain and suffering that occurred in their minds and bodies during grief. In these moments of self-doubt, they may not realize that within their experience, they already had the skills and resilience needed to help them through their grief at this challenging time. One of the biggest mistakes people can make in their grief is to rush through the experience in hope to avoid all the discomfort, while missing all the incredible ways they’ve managed to survive such an anticipated terrifying day or event.
Most people who are grieving have a tendency to constantly be thinking and planning, fueled by their anxiety over the next upcoming significant event. While it may have been a huge sigh of relief to have made it through the recent holiday, it is a natural human response to begin to direct our energy on worrying about how we will make it through the next event. You may now feel as though you won’t be able to get through the New Year as it creeps in and the intense feelings of anxiety around a year of “firsts” without a loved one may now become your main focus. To avoid this uncomfortable part of your experience, I ask you to pause for a few moments. Pausing allows us to reflect on and identify different aspects of our resilience and personal agency during our grief. Research by Rick Hanson, highlighted in his book Resilience, has shown that pausing for as little as 20 seconds, several times a day can have a profound impact on reinforcement and self-efficacy.
The following exercise instills that we can and will get through the most difficult times of our lives intact. Pause and take a short reflection time to ask yourself:
- How did I get through this past event?
- What were the little things I did to care for myself?
- Who supported me?
- If I was alone, how did I support myself?
- What can I notice in my body that is evidence that shows my resilience?
It is important for your mind to hear how you came to be here in this moment right now. Instead of focusing on the next big event that looms in the near future, pause and reflect on how you made it through the recent holidays- especially when you didn’t think it was possible. Spending time in these thoughts and reflecting on the ways that you made it through these events is a significant way of caring for your grief. It will allow you to recognize and reinforce the skills that you have cultivated within your mind to help you during future difficult times.
If you find that you have reverted to automatic responses such as unhealthy coping mechanisms or habits including alcohol, substances or other detrimental behaviors, just know that you were doing this to trudge through the experience so that you didn’t have to feel the pain of the grief in the absence of your loved one. Unfortunately, with these avoidant behaviors, the cycle of anxiety over not wanting an upcoming potentially painful event to happen can add to stress and increase the desire to cope in ways that will not serve your future self. In these moments, pausing to catch your breath and re-evaluating your coping mechanisms becomes especially critical. Discovering and reinforcing constructive methods of grief will give you the tools and the strength that you didn’t realize you had to draw from as you continue through the New Year and other significant events.
If you are struggling, here are some resources to help you:
- The Calgary Distress Centre: (403) 266-4357
- The Alberta Health Services Adult Mental Health and Addiction Program
- Although I am not a crisis service, I offer a comfortable environment and the time you need to help guide you through your grief. Together we can explore a variety of healthier coping strategies that can assist you in coping with the uncomfortable sensations of pain that can arise in your mind and body as you anticipate the next event.
Elizabeth (Liz) Hides MSW, RSW, CT, CMMT is owner of Healthy Directions a private practice in Calgary, Alberta that focuses on grief, loss, and life transitions. She is a Registered Social Worker, Certified Thanatologist and Certified Mindfulness and Meditation Teacher. Liz’s expertise is helping Albertan’s navigate traumatic losses such as suicide, homicide, and sudden deaths. She encourages exploration of resilience and personal growth after a loss through a blend of traditional talk therapy and non-traditional methods to ease grief experiences. You can contact Liz through her website – www.healthy-directions.ca