Managing Grief and Anxiety at Christmas
Christmas is coming as it does with regularity every year. Regardless of our religious beliefs or lack of, Christmas is generally a time when people come together for celebrating.
For some it is a time for celebrating the birth of Jesus, while for others it is simply an opportunity to celebrate our connection to one another through family ties and/or friendship.
Christmas can however be a double-edged sword. While we may have cause to celebrate and be grateful for all that we have, it is also a poignant reminder of those who are no longer in our lives and our feelings of loss, in its various guises, that go with it.
It is at times such as Christmas when our losses can be more keenly felt. In the early days, weeks, months and sometimes years after a loss, a loved one’s absence is sharply felt for the most part of every day but over time, we gradually find room for other thoughts, feelings and experiences to enter and life carries on whether we feel like participating in it or not.
People talk about reaching a place of acceptance; sometimes it’s more a case of reluctant resignation.
For those of you facing your first Christmas without a loved one, anxiety is common in the build-up to ‘the day’ with the build-up often being worse than the day itself.
Anxiety is also common in the lead up to any of the significant ‘firsts’ after the death such as the first birthday, the first anniversary, the unveiling, the inquest and dates and timeframes become more significant.
The anxiety can show itself in all manner of ways through our body, our thoughts, emotions and behaviour. Shortness of breath, panic attacks, stomach upsets, aches and pains, obsessiveness, hypervigilance, fearfulness and sleeplessness to name a few.
What can you do to manage your anxiety?
Managing anxiety is largely within your control but left unchecked, it can become more problematic. If this is the case, seek support from your GP or complementary health practitioner.
Hypnotherapy, acupuncture, counselling and medical herbalists can be helpful alternatives to managing anxiety without the use of prescription drugs. Meditation and mindfulness techniques can be helpful for managing your thoughts. Bach Flower Remedies can be helpful for managing the emotional aspect. Rescue Remedy, a combination of five Bach Flowers, is helpful for treating shock, trauma and anxiety and is readily available at your local chemist.
Using the breath for managing anxiety
- Breathe –we often hold our breath or breathe in the upper chest when anxious. If necessary, remind yourself to breathe. Notice how you are breathing.
- Breathe deeply – consciously breathing fully and deeply into our diaphragm (belly) slows and calms our mind & body naturally without medication.
- Staying present – focusing on our breath helps bring our thoughts into the ‘here and now’, displacing other unwanted thoughts.
- Listen to your body and acknowledge what it is telling you. It is often the resistance to what we’re feeling which creates the tension and dis-ease in our bodies.
- Do you need to do something? Physical activity can help release anxiety from the body.
- Know that your feelings ‘will pass’
At the best of times, Christmas can be fraught when family’s come together. When grief is also part of the dynamic, heightened sensitivities increase the possibilities for misunderstandings and conflict.
Think about what you need to do to take care of yourself on Christmas day and the build up to it. Grieving is hard work so be kind and gentle on yourself by:
- Easing up on your expectations of Christmas and yourself
- Keeping it simple
- Reducing commitments and responsibilities
- Lightening the load by sharing, delegating, choosing to do it differently or not participating.
Trust that you know best what you need, more so than what others might think you need, and that it’s okay to say no or change your mind. Having this conversation prior to the occasion with those it will impact on can help reduce tension borne from unspoken expectations and unwanted obligations.
Having a plan for Christmas Day can be helpful, whether it is a flexible plan you can alter or having several options to choose from on the day depending on how you feel. For others, having a plan and sticking to it provides a degree of certainty and derived comfort from that.
Consider how you might like to consciously include the memory of your loved one into the day through ritual, activity, words or gestures in a way that honours them and feels right for you. This too can reduce some of the angst about the day.
Remember, it is just one day when all is said and done.
If you would like more support in the build-up to Christmas, call or contact Claire for an appointment now.
© Claire Laurenson 2017
This blog is the author’s viewpoint and is not intended to replace professional medical advice.