Coping with depression and grief during the holidays

The holidays are often a difficult time for many people, and COVID-19 may bring some additional challenges and worries this year. While the typical stress this time of year usually comes from planning, shopping, cooking, and preparing for the holidays; stress this year may arise from worrying about staying safe and not being able to see family/friends. Being away from family/friends can trigger feelings of loneliness and isolation, and may contribute to increased depression this time of year. I recognize how difficult these feelings are, and how it may seem very hard to overcome.

Grief can often triggered around the holidays as well. Maybe you lost a loved one this time of year, or maybe the pain of not having them around feels stronger around the holidays. COVID-19 can make the feeling of loss even greater. It is important to remember that grief is a process, and it may not look the same for everyone. While people may differ in the grieving process, one way to look at grief is through these five stages: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance. This may help you understand some of the thoughts and feelings you may be having after a loss.

  1. Denial- One may think “this cannot be happening”. This involves shock and fear.
  2. Anger- You may feel resentment, bitterness, or irritable. Anger can be a defense to cover up feelings of sadness/hurt.
  3. Bargaining- One may be struggling to find meaning in the loss. One may be looking back on what happened and using statements such as “If only…”, and “What if…”.
  4. Depression- One may feel overwhelmed, helpless, and struggle with motivation.
  5. Acceptance- In this stage one might find new meanings, new routines, and feel more stable in their emotions. This involves accepting a new reality after a loss.

So how do we cope with these intense feelings of stress, depression, and grief during the holidays? Here are some tips:

  • Acknowledge your feelings: Recognize the holidays may look different this year and you might not be feeling your best. Be gentle with yourself and allow yourself to express your feelings in whatever safe way works for you.
  • Reach out and stay connected: Seek out a friend, family, community support, or religious support. Schedule phone calls/zoom meetings to stay connected to your supports. Have a “virtual holiday”.
  • Develop a daily routine: Establishing routine can help with feelings of stress. This can include a 5-minute meditation in the morning, making a to-do list, or setting small goals to accomplish throughout the day. Having a plan can help us feel more motivated to get up and moving.
  • Express gratitude: While it might not be the first thing that comes to mind, showing gratitude can shift our perspective and help us realize there are still positives in our lives. Make a list each day of 5 things you are grateful for, or start a gratitude journal. Practice saying thank you.
  • Acknowledge loss: If you have experienced loss, it is important to reflect on the ways the holidays will be different. Decide what traditions you want to keep and how you can honor the person you lost. Recognize it is a process and your feelings can shift day to day.
  • Positive self-talk: Make a list of positive affirmations to say to yourself.
  • Practice healthy habits: Try engaging in light exercise, eat a healthy snack, and try to get adequate sleep to let your body recover.
  • Seek professional help: If you are having trouble coping on your own, reach out to a mental health professional. We must recognize we are not superhuman and cannot deal with all of life’s struggles on our own. Seek help if you need it!

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