Coping with Grief at Christmas & New Year  by Dr Marianne Trent, Clinical Psychologist

 It’s fair to say that with the pandemic, that for one reason or another, 2020 is likely to have more grief within it than usual.  Of course, the moment we feel that grief most keenly will be different for all of us; perhaps an empty place at the dinner table, one present less to buy, one less received, but wherever you feel or notice it most it’ll likely come with a variety of difficult feelings.

As anyone who has experienced grief knows, it’s not just the sad bits can catch us off guard. Sometimes the moments of happiness and joy can also lead to a connection with grief too. So many people tell me that they can feel an acute sense of guilt when they realise they are happy and enjoying themselves. The realisation that they are having fun can make them reflect on how on earth they can be feeling happy when a person they loved dearly has died. I think that’s why grief can be around so much more at Christmas, because it is traditionally a time many of us associate with comfort, joy and time spent with loved ones. The New Year is about new beginnings and renewed enthusiasm, both of which may be in short supply if you are still coming to terms with a significant loss in your life. 

Tips for Coping

1. It can be useful strategy to include old habits and routines from Christmases past but also to consider beginning new Christmas traditions.

2. If you know that you’ll find the absence of a gift received or a gift sent, then why not buy yourself something you’ll enjoy or something you know someone else will adore? It’s been a difficult year and you’re very much worth taking care of. It’s okay to care for yourself and it’s likely that the person you’ve lost would want this for you too.

3. This year, depending on how lockdown unfolds, even our ability to be with those we cherish might be in jeopardy. The ease of distracting ourselves might therefore be more difficult. I think sometimes when we most feel like turning away from our pain it can be useful to turn towards it. I’m not suggesting we connect with it for hours on end, that wouldn’t be compassionate, but we can perhaps manage it for 3 – 5 deep, rhythmic, purposeful breaths in and out. To do this teaches the body and the mind that we can cope with these difficult feelings.

This technique, when done daily, can actually increase our distress tolerance. In terms of acceptance and control, turning towards the distress rather than away even if only for a few breaths can be a very useful strategy indeed.

4. With the coming months set to bring more challenges - perhaps anniversaries, birthdays and special occasions without your loved one – why not use the New Year to find support to help you with your grief journey. There are many local and specific services listed on this website which can help. There is something for everyone, whatever their loss and wherever they live. Finding support will not minimise your loss, but it will help you to live with it in the months and years ahead.

Dr Marianne Trent is a Clinical Psychologist and author of The Grief Collective: Stories of Life, Loss & Learning to Heal, you can sign up for Marianne’s weekly emails at: www.goodthinkingpsychology.co.uk