Welcome back to Restorative Grief with Mandy Capehart. You are listening to episode 15 titled, “New Years Grief!”. This started out as a conversation about resolutions, and allowing ourselves a chance to move slowly instead of laying expectations on our lives. And although that is a valuable conversation to have, I really want to spend our time together today addressing why it is that grief makes the new year so much harder.
I realize we are nearly a month into the new year, but this is really the best time, I think, to address this topic. I know that many grievers have the idea that a new year will change something and we often hope we can dive right into the resolutions and fresh feeling of the new calendar to start feeling differently. So three weeks in, I’m fairly certain that veil has torn and now you’re wondering if grief will ever feel better.
In the obvious ways, we know the resolutions are difficult to keep. We are already navigating a laundry list of things to do that have no bearing on our personal self care. Adding another goal isn’t high on the list of priorities. So for the rest of this conversation, let’s let the idea of resolutions take a back seat.
Grief seems bigger in the new year because of secondary losses. Maybe your loss is fresh, and you’re just realizing this is the first time you’ll enter a new year without that person or circumstance in your life.
Maybe your loss is decades old, and you feel the pressure and shame from external expectations to be in a different place by now.
As a griever, you are preparing (externally) to enter into a new calendar year and have, like so many of us, been raised to believe the best about that year. To have hopes, dreams, and the best intentions set you on a path toward success. To set resolutions and dive in head first.
But by now, those thoughts have lost their shine. The truth is, as much as you’d like to say you’re feeling better and reaching goals, you are probably feeling quite the opposite.
We know we have a responsibility to ourselves to move intentionally through loss in a way that brings us back to life. That’s the goal, right?
But much like resolutions, such a goal can feel wholly unattainable with trauma and loss wrapped in the narrative. We’ve been doing our best to move through our lives one day at a time. Beginning to dream about a future means reckoning with the fear of the unknown, what lies ahead, and what else could possibly happen that we simply cannot control.
It’s a new flavor of anticipatory grief. And yeah, our lack of premonition in life is pretty typical, but the layer of anxiety that arrives after loss can create an even deeper freeze response in our lives.
So how can we navigate? How do we as grievers start to look at the new year calendar and honor our stories and where we stand without dismissing it and setting those resolutions no matter what?
Some will find a stubborn, deep sense of self that arises with a goal or resolution in mind, and that will be the very thing that brings them back to themselves.
But for the most part, the grievers I work with describe hesitancy, panic, indecision, and helplessness at the thought of a new year and potential new grief.
The biggest question is, “How is this really my life, and how can I change it?”
Before we go any further, I want to remind you that grief changes who we are today and who we are able to become in the future. That’s a secondary loss. No matter what you set your mind upon, the person you are is not defined by successes or failures. You are a whole person in mind, body, heart, and spirit. But when you’re grieving, you start to recognize that one or all of those parts are out of alignment.
So rather than trying to set a fantastic resolution that addresses all of those areas on the outside, let’s work toward identifying the internal alignment concerns offset by grief by first noticing how they got out of alignment in the first place.
If you can believe that you are a whole person with an alignment issue, the way you will see yourself can shift. But before that’s possible, you get to make the choice if you’re ready for something to shift. Any coach or counselor worth the paper their degree is printed upon is trauma-aware, and would never insist you set a goal or try to move forward on their timing.
The work here is never about a timeframe or pushing yourself. This work is soft, curious, slow, and intentional.
The easiest part is knowing the big picture. I’m out of alignment with my values and sense of self because grief entered the chat and started unraveling my heart, mind, body, and spirit in one fell swoop. My emotions are wild, unpredictable, and heavy as hell.
The intention comes from looking at each of those areas and generating compassion for yourself. Your emotions? They’re fully valid. Your heart? It’s held and valued by so many people, you would lose your mind if you truly knew the depth of their love for you. Your body? Well, it’s working overtime to keep you safe, alive, and steady. Your spirit? It’s probably confused as hell and asking all the biggest questions in the universe.
If any of that resonates with you, I’m going to give you one easy assignment that I do for myself as often as I need to remember what I’m capable of.
Get to a comfortable position, wherever you are, that you can safely close your eyes. Take one breath in your nose, hold it, and then exhale loudly like a forced sigh. Find a gentle smile on your face. Let it reach your eyes. It can be a completely fake smile, but let it move the skin around your eyes and on your face. Hold what might be a fake smile for as long as you can before you’re completely annoyed with me, then place a fake frown on your face. Really exaggerate your expression. Hold it as long as you feel comfortable. If thoughts come through while you’re doing this, just mentally wave at them and let them pass on by like that acquaintance you really didn’t want to talk to in the produce aisle.
When you’re done with this uncomfortable little assignment, take a few minutes to reflect on the emotions and physical feelings in your body that you noticed in your body while you practiced. I want you to recognize that it takes a very aware and present person (just like you) to notice that while you were smiling (or fake smiling) you probably thought, This is dumb or this is not real. I don’t feel like smiling. The same will be true of the frown – this is hard to do, and it hurts my face, and I want to smile again, or at least let my face be at rest.
By engaging with the muscles in your face, you engaged your breath and your body in a new way and you invited your heart to engage with your mind for a few minutes.
Writing down the experience is going to trigger a few new thoughts, my friend. And those thoughts are exactly where we you can begin to answer the question above: “Is this my life now, and how do I change it?”
We all want growth, healing, and change in the new year. Change maybe, not so much, because it’s hard and scary and complicated. But it’s also unavoidable. Introducing exercises that seem small (like the one I just shared) are actually huge. They take a lot of mental energy and investment of your time. Resolutions give us the impression that everything we do in and out of grief must be monumental to move the needle, but that’s a lie. The truth is, every little thing we do moves us closer to or further from the person we are becoming and the person we are already are.
Thank you for listening to episode 15 of Restorative Grief. As you grieve through this new year, give yourself a chance to celebrate the individual moments that you choose to embrace the misalignment of your mind, heart, body, and spirit. Acknowledge that you chose surrender and softening over violence against yourself – especially in your mind – and stick with me if you need someone else to remind you that you are absolutely holding yourself to a new standard of grace as you heal.
Before you go, I just really want to thank you for having these conversations with me. If you haven’t already, please subscribe to Restorative Grief and leave a review on Apple or Spotify or wherever you listen. You can even give me a shout on your socials and tag me, because I’m actively coaching on Twitter and Instagram, and I would love to connect with you in one of those spaces.
One last thing – Remember, the only solution for grief is to do the work of grieving. I’ll see you next week.
Links + Resources from this episode:
- Ask a Grief Coach: Why Does the New Year Hurt So Much?
- Join The Restorative Grief Project, a private online grief coaching community
- Listen to this episode of Restorative Grief with Mandy Capehart on Spotify
- Snag a copy of my book, Restorative Grief
- Connect with me on Twitter or Instagram @MandyCapehart