You may have a lot of people in your life who look up to you and depend on you, but if you do not put yourself first sometimes, you won’t have anything to give to friends or loved ones. Putting yourself first at times is not an act of selfishness but an act of selflessness. You are not doing anyone any favors by giving of yourself until you have nothing left to give. Empathy and compassion are incredibly important characteristics and are crucial to a fulfilling life, so make sure you treat yourself with both and not just other people.
We often are the harshest on ourselves during times of loss, and we push ourselves to brush away our true feelings of emotional fatigue and sadness - especially during the holidays. So give yourself time. Force yourself to take moments (or even entire days) to focus on your own needs. The house doesn't need to be spotless. The presents do not need to be perfect or flawlessly decorated. And Uncle Jim and Aunt Sally will survive if you don't have three different kinds of pies. Be kind to yourself. You must demand the space to not be okay. And it is totally okay to not be okay. It is not okay to ignore your needs.
2. Find a refuge
Confiding in someone can be a very effective way to heal and find comfort during times of loss and grief - especially in the chaos of the holidays. Since the holidays can be especially noisy and stressful, it is all the more important to find a refuge during this time. In an ideal world, you have a loved one you trust with your emotions and privacy. If you are fortunate enough to have such a person in your life, reach out to them. Tell them you want to talk and let them know how you are feeling. If you do not have someone like this in your life, then think about someone you admire. And reach out to them. I promise that person will feel honored. Telling someone you would like to talk about hardship you are facing is not a sign of weakness, but a sign of strength. Know to your core that you are not a burden, and that your feelings matter. And if someone ever makes you feel like a burden for talking about your emotions and confiding in them, then the problem is with them and not with you.
3. It is totally normal to be completely depressed after a deep loss.
Losing someone is tragic. It is normal to feel the emotional wind knocked out of you. It is normal to not want to even get out of bed - to not have an appetite - to not have any motivation to move at all. All of these are normal reactions to death. If you start considering harming yourself, then it is critical you reach out for help. But do not beat yourself up for having a visceral reaction to losing a loved one. Death, especially an unexpected death of a loved one, is likely to evoke deep and strong reactions. Crying does not make you weak. Not being able to normally function does not make you weak. We all grieve and respond to tragedy in different ways. Have faith in the process of grief. If you are a person of faith, as I am, we are told that we will experience death, hardship and tragedy. If you can find strength in a faith that tells us about the certainty of loss, then do so. Reading scripture about loss and death might make you feel better. And if you're not a person of faith, know that heartache and tragedy are part of the human experience. It is part of what makes this existence beautiful, because without loss and suffering, we would be prevented from growing in our love and appreciation for others. It may not feel like it in the moment, but suffering is a gift, because through suffering we gain the strength and the knowledge to recognize joy and gratitude.
4. Do not lie to yourself.
Look – loss and depression are inconvenient to say the least, especially during the holidays when everyone else seems to be surrounded by loving family, smiling faces, and delicious food. Feelings of loss are stubborn, and they will not leave you alone unless you can acknowledge their existence. One of the worst things you can do is try to convince yourself you are not beside yourself, wondering which way is up and fighting back tears with every ounce of your body while you try to prepare food or decorations or whatever for family and friends. Be honest with yourself. This relates back to the first strategy, because you have to be honest with yourself if you’re going to prioritize yourself. In order to determine what it is you need to be okay, you need to be completely transparent with what you are facing. This can be a difficult challenge because it sometimes means we need to ask others for help. And it’s not easy to talk about feelings (especially if you’re a guy who grew up around toxic representations of masculinity where having feelings or being sad means you are weak – 99% of us guys did grow up this way, so you’re not alone). Be upfront with yourself.
5. Strive to rejoice.
Your sadness is rooted in your love of the moments and happiness you shared with the person who is no longer with you. But you have your memories (and perhaps even some photos). Push yourself to look at photos and to remember good times (and it is okay to remember bad times too). As you reflect on these memories, welcome the gratitude you feel for the moments you were able to share with this person. Nobody can take those moments or those memories away. Treasure them, and turn to them for comfort. Focus your mind on the gratitude you feel for these memories. Close your eyes – listen to your breath, and play these memories over and over again. Think about how it felt to hug this person, to listen to their voice, to watch them laugh. Thank the universe (or God if you’re a religious person) for these moments and celebrate the joy you shared with this person. Focus on being grateful this person existed and for the time you got to spend with them. Gratitude will help you get through any loss, so remember all these great moments - and know that you are loved.