While the holiday season is filled with cheer, it can be a difficult time of coping with grief for many. Those who have recently lost loved ones, been let go from their job, or ended an important relationship can find the holidays to be a time of sadness, pain, anger, or dread. This year, the families of at least 320,000 Americans who lost their fight with COVID-19 will find it difficult to cope through the holidays.
Below are strategies to help employees embrace the grief process this holiday season as well as supportive tips for employers.
What is grief?
Grief is a natural reaction to loss. For many, it is a strong, often overwhelming, emotion, according to Mayo Clinic. Symptoms of grief may include feeling numb and removed from daily life, unable to fulfill daily duties, and saddled with a sense of loss.
What causes grief?
Grief is caused by the loss of something important in one’s life. Examples include:
- Death of a loved one.
- Job loss.
- The ending of an important relationship.
- Diagnosis of a terminal illness.
- Traumatic events that cause drastic changes to daily routines such as the COVID-19 pandemic.
The grieving process is different for everyone. Mourning can last months or years as pain lessens and the individual accepts and adapts.
Strategies for coping with grief during the holidays
Realize you can’t control the grieving process: Everyone moves through the stages of grief at their own pace. Experts advise those grieving to let the natural process play out and not try to rush it. Letting yourself truly feel and express your emotions is healthy. The five stages of grief are:
Join a support group: Talking with others who are also coping with grief can be beneficial. The American Cancer Society recommends chatting, writing, or talking about your loss and your memories of the life and death of your loved one. Visit Mourning Hope Grief Center for more information on online support groups.
Celebrate their memory and life: Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many families who lost loved ones this year weren’t able to say goodbye or organize a proper funeral.
“Find a way to include that person’s memory in your celebrations this year and talk about their life,” said Julia Kyle, behavior health strategy and planning director at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan during a recent Detroit Regional Chamber COVID-19 Town Hall. “Is that sad? Yes, but sometimes we need to go through that.”
Do something kind for others: Performing acts of kindness can be healing for those coping with grief, according to Psychology Today. While social distancing limits in-person volunteer opportunities, there are other ways to engage in acts of kindness for those in your community:
- Support small businesses if you plan to buy gifts.
- Order from local restaurants.
- Make a meal or holiday desert and deliver to a neighbor.
- Donate to local nonprofit organizations.
Seek professional support: If you are uncertain whether your feelings of grief are normal, it is recommended you contact your health care provider. They can refer you to a behavior health counselor for additional support.
It is important to understand grief and respect employees who may be struggling this season. Refrain from making virtual holiday parties mandatory, as this can be a trigger for many. Let employees know you support them by sharing professional resources and being flexible with schedules if they need to request time off to heal properly.
The sound of cheerful music, holiday movies, festive decorations bring painful reminders of loss for many during the holiday season, especially this year. When grieving individuals are patient with themselves, truly embrace their emotions, and seek professional support, they are better equipped to cope with the holiday season.