Outside the window, I hear the carolers wandering closer to our front porch; their familiar song evokes precious memories of childhood holidays. However, it’s another Christmas without my Dad, and this year, I’m feeling more stressed about it. Quite frankly, I’m wondering if I’ll be holding it together during the holidays.

It’s common for the bereaved to struggle with anxiety. As the calendar counts down to December 25th, feelings of stress may become overwhelming. I know that many grieving people find that the anticipation of the “big day” is worse than the actual day but sometimes, it’s still difficult holding it together during the holidays.

Fortunately, I have one coping strategy that works for me; a relaxation practice that I’ve used during other stressful times in my life – I call it the “Three Minute Ground & Name.”

Three Minute Ground & Name Relaxation Exercise

I sit on a chair, with my feet firmly planted on the floor. I close my eyes and take a few breaths, breathing out very slowly each time.

Then, I begin to focus on each part of my body which is in contact with the floor or the chair. As I do so, I allow myself to sink into the support of these things which will not let me fall – it helps me feel safe. It’s certainly a different feeling than that of being on “shifting sand” which seems so much a part of grief.

Next, still sitting, I open my eyes and begin to name 5 – 10 specific things I can experience through each of my five senses. For example, right now I can see

  1. the red bulb on the Christmas tree
  2. the green chair
  3. the grey and white rug
  4. the silver car across the street
  5. the red wing of the dove on the tree
  6. the black hat on the snowman cookie jar

Or, I can feel

  1. my toes against my shoes
  2. the dull ache in my left ankle
  3. the chair against the back of my legs

To help with the sense of tasting, I’ll slip a piece of gum or candy into my mouth.

After I finish the “naming,” I most often feel calmer, in the present moment,and ready to get on with the task at hand.

I do this grounding practice every time I feel as if the feelings of grief or anxiety are becoming overwhelming.  It seems to help, even as I do my best to do those other self-care strategies that help the bereaved during the holidays:

  1. avoiding too much caffeine and sugar,
  2. getting sufficient rest and sleep, which includes naps and quiet time
  3. getting some physical exercise,
  4. saying “No, thank you” to stressful social invitations,
  5. being kind with myself and my expectations,
  6. changing some familiar traditions.

I’ll make it through these holidays, and the next ones. Each year, my memories of my Dad become gentler, and bring peace and comfort to my grieving heart. I can now open the door to the carolers, and join them singing one of my Dad’s favourite Christmas song – Carol of the Bells.

I wish you a gentle, calm holiday season.

Written by Wendy Kurchak CT (Certificate Thanatology) B.Ed

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