This is my second holiday season since I got diagnosed with ulcerative colitis in 2018. It’s still kind of raw. I grew up on a lot of traditional German & Jewish food and much of it is off limits now. I have to cook clean and try to keep my family happy as well. But Fortunately they’ve been pretty understanding!
I miss the old traditional food. It’s supposed to be “the most wonderful time of the year” but it gets eclipsed by my daily reality of chronic illness, fatigue and all-too-frequent bathroom visits.
How about you? Are the holidays tough because of chronic illness or other life challenges? Read on for some tips to help you navigate the holiday season with intentional soul care.
Remember You’re Not Alone
I know I’m not the only one who struggles. For many people, The holidays can be a wonderful time filled with family, friends, and great food. It’s a time for making memories and sharing tender moments.
But it can also aggravate existing heartache. And you might be aching for any number of reasons. Maybe you’re grieving the loss of a loved one.
Maybe you just lost a beloved pet or just lost your job. Perhaps you’re missing a family member you’re estranged from. Or have just experienced a divorce.
What you’re experiencing is grief. It’s the sadness, anger, and pain that comes from loss. Sometimes that loss may be major (such as death or divorce). Or it might be a smaller loss but it stings just as much.
Be Present With Your Feelings
There’s no way around difficult times. You have to go through them. Whatever you do, don’t try to be tough and tuck your emotions out of sight. You may be able to temporarily bottle up what you feel but those emotions will eventually surface sooner or later.
Give yourself permission to feel your pain, and let yourself grieve this loss. Learn to lean into the sadness, anger, or fear you’re feeling right now. Acknowledge where you are on your journey without judgement.
Let Go of the Past
For some, the toughest part of the holidays is remembering how things used to be. The way you celebrate may have changed over the years and that can bring pain. Maybe you had a packed house years ago, but life changed and now your holiday isn’t the same.
It’s OK to let things be different this year. Embracing a new tradition doesn’t mean that you’re letting go of the past or that you’re not still grieving. Think of it as giving yourself the gift of growth.
You don’t have to go through this alone. Remember that we’re created for community and we thrive when we receive the emotional support we need. But if you don’t tell anyone, they can’t be there for you during this difficult time.
Tell a close friend or a family member about what you’re going through. You might say, “This holiday is difficult for me because of __________. So right now, I feel (emotion you wish to express).”
Understand that although your family and friends may wish to support you, they may not know how to do it. They might feel awkward about how to help and offer only trite suggestions or painful advice.
You can guide them through this process by telling those you love what you need. For example, you might say, “I feel lonely because it’s hard for me to get out like I used to. Can we plan a date for coffee or a movie?”
Don’t Forget to Practice Self-Care
With the chaos of the holidays, it’s easy to let self-care routines begin slipping. Maybe you’re skipping out on the gym or going to bed later and missing out on much needed hours of sleep. Perhaps you’re eating poorly or failing to take your supplements or medication.
Self-care is always essential, especially when you’re walking through a season of grief. Focus on doing one good thing for your body each day – whether that’s going to the gym, getting enough sleep, or simply taking your supplements or medication on time.
Keep a Self Care List
Think about your favorite activities that calm you and help you relax. Make a list of them now while you’re feeling well. The next time you start to feel overwhelmed or anxious, you can pull out this list and do one activity from it.
Some activities you might want to add to your list might include…
- Painting or drawing
- Knitting or crocheting
- Playing guitar or another instrument
- Writing or journaling
- Calligraphy or Coloring
- Gardening or Hiking
- Reading a light-hearted book
- Netflix binge
Practice Self Love
Some people think grief is something they should just “bounce back” from. It isn’t that simple. Grief is not like stubbing your toe. The pain lasts far longer and goes much deeper.
Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that you’ve grieved and now you’re done. You might think you’re through the worst of it then something crops up, causing you feel the loss all over again, as if it were day one of your grief.
Understand that grief is not a destination. It’s not an exotic locale that you visit only once. Grief is an ongoing journey and may last for months, years, or even decades depending on what you’ve lost.
What are Your Triggers?
Certain sounds, sights, or smells may trigger a fresh wave of grief for you. Learning to pay attention to what those triggers can be helpful in learning to navigate them.
You may be watching a movie where the main character is in the hospital and be reminded of a difficult medical experience or loss. You may feel the trauma, shock, and pain all over again.
When you encounter a trigger, don’t run away from it. Instead, acknowledge your emotions and express them. You might want to cry, pray, or curse. Do whatever feels right in the moment.
Grief Isn’t Linear
Many people have heard of the five stages of grief. The idea is that during grief, you’ll walk through five distinct emotional phases. Typically, those phases look like this…
- Stage #1: Denial
- Stage #2: Anger
- Stage #3: Bargaining
- Stage #4: Depression
- Stage #5: Acceptance
However, it’s important to remember that the grieving process is not linear. You may be at the point where you’re bargaining and think you’ve made it through the first two stages of grief. And then you find an old picture or t-shirt in the back of your closet that reminds you of your loss. Suddenly, you’re back in denial, thinking that this horrible loss couldn’t have happened to you.
The hard truth is that most people cycle through the stages of grief several times and in a different order each time. That means no one person’s way of grieving will look exactly like yours (nor should it).
Delegate during the Holidays
If you’re the one in charge of holiday preparations and struggling with grief, it’s easy to become overwhelmed and depressed. Don’t think everything depends on you. Ask for help. Maybe a family member or friend can handle the decorations or menu. Ask your spouse to shop for groceries.
Don’t feel bad about delegating tasks to others during the holidays. It’s OK to need help, especially when you’re walking through a season of grief.
Celebrate without Guilt
At times during the holidays, you may feel joyful. You may experience brief moments of happiness and contentment. These feelings may be followed by guilt or sadness that you’re moving on.
Remember that you deserve to be happy. Your life may never look the same again and you’re learning a new normal. You may always carry this loss with you. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t rejoice in the here and now. You can find wonder, comfort, and happiness in the beautiful present.