To Resolution or Not to Resolution: Relaxing into the New Year
Author: Audri Beugelsdijk
The new year is a time when we contemplate all the previous year has been and all the coming year could be. Perhaps we make resolutions, promising ourselves a change, anticipating growth, and hoping for something new - after all, it is the “new” year - shouldn’t it also be a “new” me? Whether we do this to ourselves, or others put this upon us, these expectations can feel like a lot of pressure. Honestly, in the midst of our grief, now may not be the time to lay on the pressure of trying to reinvent ourselves.
We sometimes push ourselves to “get better”, asking “why can’t I function and pull it together?” Grief strips away layers of the self to the degree that we often don’t recognize the person we were before. If the new year is historically about setting goals, should our goal be to find that person again? Turning back the hands of time, swimming against the current, wrestling with ourselves, all of these have one thing in common, they are a fight against something. What if in the new year, rather than struggling against ourselves or trying to set aggressive or unrealistic expectations, we instead make friends with where we are and identify some ways we can relax into a new year, keeping the following in mind:
1. Give yourself grace
We tend to give a lot of flexibility to others to take care of themselves, but often fail to extend ourselves the same grace. Our own negative “self-talk” is often critical of how we manage after our loss.
Consider: Our brains are like a computer. Your brain on grief can only process so much information all at once. Even when you aren’t “actively” doing something that looks like grief, it’s still operating in the background, drawing computing power. You may not process information as fast as you did before your loss. It is common, for example, to have difficulties remembering new information, have moments of forgetfulness, need to read things multiple times to comprehend, or have a general sense of mental fog. Relieve the pressure on yourself by replacing your negative self-talk with something more kind, such as, “It’s okay to slow down and give myself time to heal. I’m doing the best my body and brain can do for now.” Create your own positive affirmation.
2. Schedule time for grieving
Giving yourself time to grieve is important. While it might feel scary to embrace this emotional pain, feeling it can be a step toward healing. Intentionally engaging your grief doesn’t have to leave you fearful that you will lose control and not be able to contain the emotions. Striking a balance is helpful so that you can feel it without soaking yourself in your grief for so long that it feels hard to recover.
Consider: Schedule a time when you have 30 uninterrupted minutes. Take a walk, talk with a friend, look through a box of photos or mementos, or some other activity that feels right for you, but set an alarm for 30 minutes. Plan in advance for the next task you will do immediately after your grief time. When your alarm goes off, take a few deep, cleansing breaths, and pivot to your previously scheduled task or distraction. You may also use a distraction technique such as listening to upbeat music to help you transition. Grief is like a roller coaster and we can make a plan for those times when we need the roller coaster to come back up.
3. Schedule time for yourself
While grief can feel so heavy that it crowds other things out, you are more than just your grief. Like scheduling time to “feel the feels”, we may also need to schedule time away. Sometimes we can begin to over-identify with our grief to the degree that it consumes us. We have to be intentional about making time to visit other parts of who we are. Incorporating time for yourself doesn’t mean you will always feel like engaging in something else, but can feel a bit of “fake it until you make it.”
Consider: Whether it is an activity you have previously enjoyed or some other random activity just to keep yourself busy, scheduling time away from your grief is important so that it doesn’t become all-consuming. This concept of “dosing” ourselves with our grief can make it more manageable, so balancing that with time for other activities is an important part of caring for yourself.
4. Surround Yourself With Others Who Lift You Up
We all have people in our lives we engage for different reasons. Maybe you have some people with whom you share a love of art, while others you share an interest in technology. You wouldn’t necessarily have the same conversations with both of them. Likewise, you can seek out people who are supportive of conversations around your grief.
Consider: If there are people in your life who leave you feeling worse after an interaction, perhaps because they try to rush your healing or ask “Aren’t you over that yet?”, then you will definitely benefit from considering setting some healthy boundaries with those people. Limiting your exposure to unhealthy or toxic people who drain your energy is healthy. Aligning yourself with others who are willing to create a safe space for you to explore your grief and its impact will create more stability for you. You might even be surprised to realize that a person who is most supportive at this time is a person you would least expect.
5. Say “Yes” and “No” to the Right Things
To say that we over-extend ourselves is an understatement. The demands on our time can pack our calendars with a never-ending list of to-dos, leaving us mentally and physically exhausted. We may even stay busy so we won’t have time to think about how much we miss our loved ones. Because we only have so much time in a day, it is important to balance our commitments, so that we are also saying yes to our own needs.
Consider: What is your “best yes?” Remember that you only have so many yeses before you give away all of your time. Rather than over-commit, think about how much of your time needs to be set aside for your own mental and physical health. Whether it is preserving your quiet time to reflect, get exercise, or other nurturing activities, protecting this time will yield benefits for you. Pace yourself and build in extra time to complete tasks as needed.
We have opportunities and choices to make in the new year. While we could opt for a traditional “New Year’s Resolution” that puts more pressure on ourselves, perhaps we can instead consider how we can relax into the new year. Taking time to set ourselves up for success by being intentional may be the only resolution you need to make. You can consider many other things as the new year dawns, but maybe at a minimum you can agree to start the new year by being gentle with yourself; letting yourself both take time to grieve and build in time away from your grief; surround yourself with those who uplift and support you, and remember to be intentional about your time so that you are not burning your candle at both ends. These intentional considerations can lay a foundation for the new year that supports your healing and growth. These topics are conversations you can have with your TAPS family as well. Whether talking with the Survivor Care Team, the Helpline, or your Peer Mentor, we are here to support you as you navigate what lies ahead.
Audri Beugelsdijk is the surviving spouse of Navy Seaman Jason Springer and serves as TAPS Vice President, Survivor Services.