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Seek the light: on coping with the holiday blues

Christmas isn’t a time of celebration for everyone. The holidays, and Christmas, especially, are oftentimes reminders of what we are without. It’s hard to be alone during this time of year when most of the images we see and hear are about spending time with the ones most important for us.

The days are shorter and the nights longer. The chill in the air cuts right down to the bones and those carols that resound in commercials, on street corners and in the businesses you frequent leave you with a tinge of emptiness without the people who you used to share this special season with.

And so for some, the alternative to grinning and bearing this difficult and emotional time is to avoid it completely. Stay home. Turn off the TV and radio. Say, ‘no thanks,’ to those invitations to socialize. Some even fear this time of year. Author, Julie Yarbrough, says not so fast.

It is normal to be fearful when you are grieving, especially as you anticipate or even dread the holiday season...To understand dread at the holidays, you must simultaneously acknowledge and deconstruct your fear. Remember that fear is a basic human response, especially when you are grieving. As you approach the season, remember that your anticipation is usually much worse than the actual holiday. Often you resolve much of your fear ahead of time and the day is not as difficult as you expected.

So how does one cope with grief during the holiday season? Consider the following strategies. Perhaps they will help you or someone you know manage this emotional time of year.

Know your limits. Choose which activities in which you participate and how little or how much. Get a sense of how your feeling and if it’s too much for you, either limit your participation and exposure or choose not to take part. Though it feels harder to say ‘no’ during this time of year, you just might have to.

Take care of yourself. Self care is so overlooked in this season of giving generously. It’s hard enough not to feel exhausted from the errand-running, gift-buying and giving and event-planning that abounds this time of year. Be sure that you spend time on you. Whether that means making sure you get enough rest each night or spending time remembering, reflecting and maybe even forgetting--do what you need to do. Let others know what your needs are.

Attend a longest night/blue Christmas service. More and more churches and communities of faith are holding services that coincide with the Winter Solstice--the longest night of the year--typically around December 21. These opportunities recognize the struggle with darkness and grief that those living with a loss, face. Perhaps this can be a time of healing and remembering for you and a reminder that you do not have to face this season of loss, alone.

Maintain or rethink traditions. Though holidays are often marked by tradition, they don’t have to be. With the loss of a loved one, it may be too painful to continue family traditions. How you spend this holiday may change next year. Don’t feel like you have to hold yourself to a particular practice just because you always have.

Plan. Whether you’re the type to plan every little detail or whether that was something your loved one did, it doesn’t hurt to take a moment to make a plan for the holidays. From making travel arrangements to thinking through how you’ll respond to the question “how are you doing?” making a plan helps you to put things in perspective and structure what could feel like a very overwhelming season.

Advent and Christmas is a season of light--a reminder that God’s love broke through the darkness of this world, illuminating our lives forever.  Yarbrough writes, You have the power to direct your grief as you direct the light. That light may come in the form of a prayer, a connection with a friend or the realization that love is brighter than the darkness of grief and negative emotion.

This season and throughout the year, may you seek the light--may we all seek the light--that gives us hope and courage to continue walking as people upon whom a great light has shone.

Excerpts from this piece are taken from Julie Yarbrough’s Beyond the Broken Heart: A Journey Through Grief, published by Abingdon Press, 2012.

Photo by Kathleen Barry, UMNS

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