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  • Nicole Vykoukal, LCSW

3 Ways to Cope With The Holiday When You're Missing Your Best Friend.

Updated: Dec 25, 2019

During the holidays, memories of past years can highlight the absence of deceased loved ones, including beloved companion animals. Instead of feeling the holiday cheer and magic, it is common to experience dread, loneliness, and sorrow during these long winter night. Remember, grief is a normal, natural, and part of the human experience. It's okay to feel sad.

Here are 3 tips to help you cope with missing your best furry friend during the holidays.

1. Counteract the toll of grief through acts of service and kindness for others and yourself.

Neuroscience shows that when you help others, you get a boost of feel-good neurochemicals (Dopamine, Serotonin, and Oxytocin). These neurochemicals are linked with uplifted moods and increased happiness and can counteract stress hormones in your body. 

This holiday season no act of kindness is too big or small. Take time to exchange a smile or kind words while you're standing next to someone in line, smile at person who is elderly, do a favor for a friend, send a thoughtful text message, connect with an animal, help your neighbor unload their groceries, commit to volunteer with a local organization, and/or donate to a charity.

Don't forget to be compassionate with yourself. Give yourself a break and speak gently to and about yourself. Treat yourself with the same kindness and love that you would treat a beloved animal with

2. Make meaning of the life and death of your companion animal.

Two bereavement experts, David Kessler and Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, believe there is a 6th stage of grief. This 6th stage is about finding or making meaning of the death. 

One way to find meaning is to write down or tell someone ways that your companion animal has changed you and others. Stay curious about how you continue to learn from or stay connected with your companion animal during difficult times of grief. 

Consider ways you can positively impact others after your companion animal’s death. For example, do you have new insights and more empathy regarding other people's grief and can you offer support to others grieving? Can you make meaning and honor your companion animal by giving love to another animal, pet sitting for a friend, or donating to or volunteering for an animal rescue? 

3. Put at least one nourishing activity on your calendar each day.

Intense feelings of sorrow and grief can dysregulate your nervous system. During the holidays, schedule and make a habit ofdoing daily nurturing activities for your nervous system. Plan a warm soothing dinner for yourself, schedule time to listen to nurturing music before bed or at lunchtime, make time to relax with a weighted blanket, give yourself a scalp massage, get out in nature (even if this means sitting outside and enjoying a hot cup of tea), meet a friend for a walk, commit to abdominal breathing while you’re doing a routine chore or work task, schedule a gentle, restorative yoga class, and/or book a massage or acupuncture.

Celebrating the holidays without your best friend hurts. These tips won’t take all your emotional pain away (and that's okay), but they can help you cope and regulate your emotions and nervous system. Remember, grief and sadness are normal. Please be kind and gentle with yourself during this difficult time.

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