The holiday season can be a difficult time for anyone who has experienced the death of a loved one. Memories may serve as a constant reminder of the loss, and some families may experience heightened stress and sadness.
Watching others celebrate can also be painful and overwhelming and contribute to feeling isolated and alone. Holiday decorations and advertisements can also be inescapable triggers.
As a parent, it is important to prioritise your self-care to help you through the holiday season.
Set realistic expectations of yourself
Consider if you can still handle past responsibilities and expectations. For example, you may want to consider shopping online this year if you feel a need to avoid crowds or triggers at shopping centres. Being mindful of your own needs is important when planning for the holidays, planning alternatives, and communicating with others.
Take one day at a time
Whether you find comfort in old holiday traditions or decide to start new ones, take this period one day at a time. Try not to overload yourself to get through the days faster or isolate yourself until the period is over. You might decide to take a social media break if you feel that it is impacting you during this period.
Prioritise your health
Make your mental and physical health a priority by taking some time for yourself. Try to find opportunities to do physical exercise and eat healthy meals. It may be helpful to set aside time every day to meditate, stretch, or go for a walk. It is also important to check in with your emotions and give yourself some forgiveness if you’re being too hard on yourself.
Lean on someone
Call or text a friend for support if you are struggling. It is always helpful to have someone to talk to when you are going through a tough time. A mental health helpline is also useful if you need support, but don’t know who to turn to.
Write in a journal or read a book
Calm your mind or racing thoughts by journaling or reading a book. Writing down how you are feeling may give you a chance to clear your head and move through your day with fewer bottled-up feelings. Others might want to read a book to distract themselves from their difficult emotions, or they might want to read a book on grief and the holidays. Our Grief Resource Hub contains a list of suggested books and media.
Know your warning signs and take breaks
Whether or not you communicate your needs or boundaries to others in advance, there is a chance you may find your emotions rising out of nowhere. Take a break when you need to and plan to step away occasionally. Whilst taking time out, you may want to text a friend or practice a breathing exercise. We know that breathwork is a helpful way to alleviate anxiety, depression, and stress.
Hand on Heart meditation exercise
At Feel the Magic, we use a simple strategy called ‘Hand on Heart’, which is beneficial for adults and children alike. It works in three ways:
(1) physical touch serves as a grounding technique to anchor you to your body and in the present moment, rather than ruminating about the past or worrying about the future;
(2) deep breathing helps to regulate the body’s stress response and soothe any physiological arousal caused by the distress; and
(3) counting helps you activate the “thinking mind” rather than the “emotional mind” and provides something tangible to focus on besides what triggered the distress.
Hand on Heart instructions:
- Place one or both hands on your chest, feeling the warmth of your hands on your body. Notice the rise and fall of your chest.
- Close your eyes or look down.
- Breath in deeply for a count of 3 and out for a count of 4. Repeat this 4-5 times.
- Label what emotion you are feeling in this moment.
- Measure your subjective level of distress out of 10.
Allow yourself to grieve
It is important to allow yourself to feel joy, sadness, anger, or whatever you are feeling. Every family member has their own unique experience of grief and no one way is right or wrong. Give yourself permission to feel your emotions as they are. Remember that experiencing joy and laughter during a time of grief does not mean you have forgotten your loved one.
The holiday season might be a tough period for your family. In Australia there are a range of resources and support available for both you and your child.
- Feel the Magic provide grief education programs and camps for children aged 7 to 17 who have experienced the death of a parent, guardian, or sibling.
- Click here to access Feel the Magic’s Grief Resource Hub which contains information to help you through a range of challenges.
- When someone dies, it can be hard to know who you’re supposed to tell. Click here to be directed to Services Australia.
- Read about how to cope financially after losing your partner. If you need financial support, click here to be directed to Services Australia.
- Talk with your doctor or local community health centre if you or your child require professional support or counselling services.
- Kids Helpline is Australia’s only free, confidential 24/7 online and phone counselling service for young people aged 5 to 25.
- Beyond Blue provides confidential counselling services.
- Griefline provides telephone and online counselling services.
- Headspace supports young people (12 to 25 years) who are going through a difficult time.
- Lifeline is a 24-hour crisis support and suicide prevention service.
- Solace provides grief support for those grieving the death of their partner.
- Postvention Australia and StandBy support people bereaved by suicide.