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The Quinnipiac Chronicle

The Student News Site of Quinnipiac University

The Quinnipiac Chronicle

How to cope during a not-so-cheery holiday season

Navigating grief and healing during the winter months
Lindsey Komson

The holidays are often envisioned as a time of cheer and joy, exchanging gifts and spending time with family, while drinking hot chocolate and putting up decorations. Some people look forward to the excitement of the season, others don’t.

The holiday season for others, including me, can be a painful reminder of loss surrounded by those that are celebrating instead of grieving.

Since I was nine years old, I’ve dreaded the winter months and the holiday season. From a young age, I’ve experienced loss that made the excitement of the season dull. Whether it is family estrangement or going through the holidays after a loved one passed away, just know that you aren’t alone.

In recent years, I’ve started to figure out tips on how to cope with the holiday season.

The first tip is to set boundaries with holiday events. While you may feel pressure to attend a family gathering or a gift exchange with friends, you can choose to participate in whatever you feel comfortable with.

It is important to find a balance between engaging in the festivities and avoiding overwhelming yourself. You can always commit to something and remind yourself that you can leave at any time or opt out of participating all together.

If you are worried about how people might perceive you, just know that the people who truly care about you will understand as you navigate your grief.

The second tip is allowing yourself to feel and taking time for solitude. Built up emotions, such as sadness and anger, intensify if they are not released. Feelings are like waves, they come and they go. If you aren’t willing to ride the wave, it will just get bigger and bigger until it comes crashing down.

An anniversary effect, “trauma-versary” or anniversary reaction can occur around the holiday season for those who have experienced grief, loss or trauma. It refers to a collection of disturbing feelings, thoughts or memories that return on or around the anniversary of a traumatic event.

Around this time, people experiencing the anniversary effect might feel restless, have trouble sleeping, feel depressed or anxious, experience physical illness or even symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, per Choosing Therapy.

During this time, you can honor old traditions and memories, as well as create new ones. Sometimes feelings of guilt may arise — and that’s normal. Your loved one would want you to enjoy the holidays.

If you’re going through grief during the holidays, you’re not alone. In fact, 35% of individuals don’t look forward to the holidays because of the loss of a loved one, according to a Experience Camps survey conducted by the Harris Poll.

However, it’s not easy to know how to best help someone who is grieving. While 86% of Americans said that grief should be addressed as an important mental health issue, 70% of Americans are unsure of what to say or do when someone is grieving.

Grief is unpredictable and complicated; and people often react in different ways. When someone is grieving, you can give them their space and be a reliable listener, while offering words of comfort or help with tasks if they accept it.

I highly advise against telling others that you understand them in their grief. While they may mean well, it tends to have the opposite effect — you never really understand what someone else is going through.

It is also important to be mindful when telling someone who is grieving that they are in your prayers. For some, that is acceptable and comforting. However, unless you know that is comforting to that person, there are other phrases they might prefer.

Here are neutral, sympathetic words of encouragement for someone grieving:

“I wish you healing and peace;” “I hope you feel surrounded by love” or “I’m here if you need anything.”

The smallest gestures can have the biggest impact, whether that is a reassuring hug or comforting words. If you find yourself grieving during the winter months or the holiday season, just know that you aren’t alone.

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Lindsey Komson
Lindsey Komson, Associate Design Editor

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