top of page

How To Cope With Grief During The Holidays When Living With An Illness

The transcript can be found under the video.

In today's video I'll be talking about a few ways to handle grief around the holidays.

Holidays generally mark the passing of time and each year you might look back on previous holidays and it's generally time for reflection. You also might get to spend some quality time with your family.

But when you've got something like POTS or Long Covid or any other kind of chronic illness, your holidays this year might look different than prior years. You might find yourself actually comparing your prior holidays to this one. And not just the holidays themselves and how you work, but obviously looking at the bigger picture maybe thinking too health-wise.

How was I last year versus this year or a few years ago? And of course, this comparison can accentuate that feeling of grief. It's now December when I'm filming this and this topic has come up quite a few times this month with clients. There's this feeling of grief that's hard to shake off and there's also at the same time a level of hesitation. How much or how little should I do? How much do I push myself or not? Do I do the kind of traditions I was doing before? And then even thinking more about that then that accentuates that feeling of grief.

So I want to talk about this feeling of grief and also practical ways to manage that and just other changes you can make to make the holidays a little bit of a happier time. The feeling of grief it's a natural response to loss. You might be familiar with the five stages: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. These are part of learning to live with the loss you have encountered. You might actually cycle very quickly through these five that I just mentioned.

Now because these illnesses, even things like POTS and Long Covid, they don't have a set end date, they might have a set start date but not a set end date. And symptoms can really come and go which causes you to kind of be in the cyclical sorrow. There's also various internal and external factors that could also intensify that factor of grief. I think it's important to acknowledge what's happening before we look at ways to ease some of that.

So now let's talk a little bit about some ways to cope with it. First part would be to acknowledge it. Allow yourself to feel the feelings, to feel whether it's sadness, anger, parts of joy. You might very well have some positive and some negative emotions thrown in the mix. You of course, might be tempted to avoid the feeling of grief but it's best to lean into that feeling. You're technically trying to avoid the pain not the grief itself but grieving and the process of grieving is the way out of the pain.

Grief is just that internal feeling that you have and mourning is the body's way of outwardly expressing that feeling. So it's important to let it out. It takes a lot of courage to sit with these feelings, but when you do that, you create an environment where you give yourself permission to hear your own thoughts, to feel your own feelings and that's where a lot of deep healing takes place and exactly this space when you allow yourself to do so, this is where that cathartic release happens and it's very healing.

A way to sit with the feelings is through meditation. Meditation doesn't change the feelings of grief but it does change the way you experience the grief and it does help with bringing about a sense of peace. One of the free apps that I use is Insight Timer. You could actually look up grief in their library and find a lot of meditations for example, just on this topic. Sitting with acknowledging these feelings that it's not just related to the holidays and it's not something that needs to be done just now.

In general, the biggest shifts that I've seen in my work with clients that happen in their healing journeys is one day they showed up to our call and they just they look different and something had shifted. So of course as we got the talking they said "you know, I think I finally accepted this illness. I've accepted the fact that I need to lead a different kind of life, perhaps for a long time, perhaps only for a short time, but I have different limits now". And it's not a sort of resignation or giving up but really just an acceptance.

And although it sounds might sound actually counter-intuitive it's through that acceptance that I see and more of that lack of resistance, right, instead of that friction, that pushing and shoving. This has let people like to embrace doing a lot more of using a lot more of the nervous system, regulation tools or keeping up with the diet changes they were making or being able to move around more.

It actually enables them to move forward. Just the process of accepting, it doesn't put a pause, it actually puts play on their life. It takes a lot of courage and strength to do this but it's very well worth the effort.

I'd also like to talk a little bit more about the various expectations that you might have for yourself and how to manage your energy throughout these weeks. Your previous holidays might have been a lot more active, so it's really important to realize that you might not only have the typical day-to-day symptoms that you have been experiencing the last few months but you might even have extra symptoms that are actually caused by grief. So that means maybe more fatigue, more symptoms and of course that means extra gentleness is required.

As you've probably already come to realize, having a routine is extremely important. Whether you're working with a nervous system and doing various activities for it throughout the day or pacing or dietary changes or food prepping all of those require more or less a certain kind of schedule and a routine.

And perhaps your routine so far the last few weeks or months has been mainly focused on healing and getting better and prioritizing yourself and now you're wondering how do I still make space for all the activities that I do throughout the day while still now spending time with family and taking part in some of those festivities?

You might be tempted to ditch your current routine temporarily and say "maybe I'll get back to you in January or after the holidays right now there's just too much going on". I would really encourage you to look at your current routine that you do have things the activities that do help you and really try to pick out the top things that really help you, perhaps having the morning routine is extremely important and having that that calm as you start the day or perhaps having that night routine is extremely important or various pacing activities that you do throughout the day.

What are some of the top things that are kind of non-negotiables that you still want to keep in and try to fit everything else around those. With this of course comes boundaries as well, maybe your friends and family members might say "well, why don't you just spend more time with us". But it's best to set boundaries based on your own interests and as wonderful as spending time with others is, it might take more energy on you than, of course, they realize.

Throughout all of this it's important to keep a sense of flexibility so you might have a plan A and a Plan B maybe your plan A is to go to your family dinner but maybe plan B is to retreat to your room if you're not feeling unwell or to have a nice bubble bath, so really trying to be as flexible as possible as least rigid as possible. There's actually a video that I filmed last December in which I talk a little bit more about specifically managing your energy around the holidays which I'll link down below.

Maybe because of the energy expenditure that it's taking on you or because of feelings of grief or whatever the reason may be, you might be tempted to cancel the holidays all together this year. And of course that is that is your choice. If that's what's best for you. But perhaps look at this as a chance to still take part in some activities or maybe to create new traditions, new memories with your loved ones. How can you take some of your favourite activities and how can you modify them so that they could fit your new circumstances?

There's still a lot of activities that can be done at home and that you could even make new traditions and memories from. One other tip that might help with managing grief through the holidays is to do something for others. Helping others is not only good for them but it's overall a good thing to do and it makes us happier and healthier when we do help others. It's possible to volunteer or to give a donation or a gift or to sponsor a family for the holidays, to make cards, to donate food, other items, etc. There's lots of different choices out there. There's a lot of things that can be done from the comfort of your own home to help others as well.

After all, it's not what the spirit of the holidays is all about?

And lastly final tip: Splurging. Splurge on yourself. You've had a difficult year perhaps you've had a few difficult years why not take this chance to treat yourself with the special present just for yourself? What have you always wanted to get? Is it possible that you could get it now?

There's no right or wrong way to celebrate the holidays but I hope that these tips give you some ideas on how to make this time of the year a bit easier. To be able to handle some of the strong emotions that are here with you now while also still partaking in seasonal activities and festivities and making it your own.

I'm really curious to hear from you all. How are some of your holiday traditions changing this year? How are you going to be spending the holidays?


bottom of page