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holiday depression Archives – Foundations Counseling

Coping with Grief, Loss, and Anxiety During the Holidays

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For anyone dealing with an illness, grief, loss, and subsequent anxiety it causes or the loss of a loved one, the holidays can be a time of sadness, pain, anger, or dread. It can be difficult to cope, especially when you see the sights and sounds of holiday happiness all around you.

The ebb and flow of grief can become overwhelming with waves of memories, particularly during Valentine’s Day, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. Grief can also magnify the stress and anxiety that is often already a part of the holidays.

How can you begin to fill the emptiness you feel when it seems that everyone else is overflowing with joy? There are a few strategies that you can employ to help you get through this time.

Offer Yourself Some Grace 

One of the best things you can do is give yourself permission to feel whatever it is you’re feeling. Try not to fall prey to the belief that you have to feel a certain way or do certain things in order to make the holiday “normal.” If you feel sad, allow the tears to come; if you feel angry, allow yourself to vent some steam.

Be Kind to Yourself 

It’s important that you get the rest and nourishment you need and try not to take on more than you can handle. If you need to be alone, then honor that. If you crave the company and affection of others, seek it out. Do whatever feels right to you during this difficult time.

Ask For and Accept Help 

The holiday season is no time to feign strength and independence when you’re grieving a death. You will need the help and support of others to get through, so don’t feel as if you are a burden. People generally receive satisfaction and even joy from helping those they care about.

After a death, people often desire to help but simply don’t know how. If you need someone to help you prepare meals, shop, or decorate, this is the time to speak up and make your needs known. Quite often, they will be delighted to feel like they are helping you in some way.

The same holds true for your emotional needs. Friends and family members might feel uncomfortable talking about your grief. They might think that you don’t want to talk about it and don’t want to be reminded of your pain.

The American Psychological Association (APA) notes that not talking about someone’s death lead to isolation and discourage those who are there to support you. Again, you will have to tell your loved ones the best way that they can help you. If you want to talk about what you’re going through, or you just need a shoulder to cry on, let them know.

Find Support

Sharing your feelings is often the best way to get through them and finding people you can talk to will help. Friendsand relativescan be a great support during times of grief. However, they might be coping with their own feelings or so immersed in the holidays that they cannot offer the support you need.

Another good option is to look for a licensed therapist for individual or group therapies. Support group members often make friends that end up being a source of comfort and care for many years to come.

A loss, whether it be a parent, sibling, child, or friend is a very personal matter. Your loss seems like the worst possible thing that could have happened to youand it can be exponential during the holiday season.

When you lose a significant person from your life, whatever the relationship, it hurts and nothing takes away from your right to feel the loss and grieve the absence of that person from your life.

Make a Difference

Many people like to help others in large or small ways during the holiday season. We may drop our change in a charity basket, purchase a gift for a needy child, or donate to a favorite organization. This can help us feel like we are contributing to the greater good.

Likewise, helping improve the lives of others can help take the focus off your loss.Many studies demonstratethat volunteering can be beneficial to our mental health, particularly as we ageand also during the holidays.

Consider volunteering at a nursing home, hospital, hospice, children’s shelter, or soup kitchen. You can also find a way to help another family member or friend who may need it. Any of these things can prove cathartic and help in the healing process.

Don’t Make Comparisons

It’s easy to see other people or families enjoying holiday festivities and compare their experience to what you feel during this difficult time. This may make you feel worse or that you’re lacking in some fashion.

Keep in mind that the holidays are stressful for most people and they are rarely the “magical” gatherings depicted in greeting cards, movies, or on television. Try to embrace what you have rather than compare it to what you think others have.

A Word From Foundations Counseling

As difficult as it seems, you will survive the holidays in one piece. Because of your grief, this holiday might prove to be a very difficult experience. However, you will get through it and come out on the other side stronger than before. You don’t necessarily have to enjoy the holidays or even go through the motions of pretending to enjoy the festivities.

That said, it’s also fine to have a good time in spite of your grief. If happiness slips through your window of grief, allow it to happen and enjoy it. You won’t be doing your loved one an injustice by feeling joyous. The best gift you can give anyone you love is that of being true to yourself and living your life to the fullest, even as you adjust to the loss and remember your loved one.

If you may be experiencing symptoms caused by grief and loss during the holiday season or for more information about the positive effects of counseling for grief and loss, please contact Foundations Counseling today.

Managing Typical Stressors During the Holiday Season

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Welcome to the holiday season and holiday stress! This is the time of year when the whirlwind of gift-giving holidays, marketing blitzes, holiday parties, and activities galore begins right after Halloween, builds to Thanksgiving and continues gaining momentum through the end of the year.

While this season is meant to bring feelings of love and cheer, it’s also the harbinger of holiday stress for many. In fact, according to most health data surveys, more than 80% of us find the holiday season to be ‘somewhat’ or ‘very’ stressful.

Doing Too Much

“All things should be done in moderation”, as the saying goes. The problem with the holiday season is that we often experience too much of a good thing. While stress itself is necessary for our survival and zest for life (some may call this a positive type of stress) too much stress definitely has a negative impact on us, both mental and physical. Too many activities, even if they are fun activities, can culminate in too much holiday stress and leave us feeling frazzled, rather than fulfilled.

Eating, Drinking, and Spending Too Much

An overabundance of parties and gift-giving occasions lead many people to eat, drink and be merry, often to excess. The temptation to overindulge in spending, rich desserts or alcohol can cause many people the lasting stress of dealing with consequences (debt, weight gain, memories of embarrassing behavior) that can linger long after the season is over. Also, in these more difficult financial times, finding affordable gifts can be stressful in itself, and carrying holiday debt is a tradition that too many people unwittingly bring on themselves, and the stress that comes with it can last for months.

Too Much Togetherness

The holidays are a time when extended families tend to gather. While this can be a wonderful thing, even the most close-knit families can overdose on togetherness, making it hard for family members to maintain a healthy balance between bonding and alone time. Many families also have roles that each member falls into that have more to do with who individuals used to be rather than who they are today, which can sometimes bring more dread than love to these gatherings.

Not Enough Togetherness

For those who don’t have these family issues, loneliness can be just as much of a problem. As the world seems to be gathering with family, those who rely more on friends for support can feel deserted and alone.

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

An often-unrecognized problem that comes with the holiday season is actually a by-product of the seasons changing from fall to winter. As daylight diminishes and the weather causes many of us to spend more time indoors, many people are affected to some degree by a type of depression known as the “seasonal affect disorder.” It’s a subtle but very real condition that can cast a pall over the whole season and be a source of stress and unhappiness during a time that people expect to feel just the opposite.

Minimizing Holiday Stress

The great thing about holiday stress is that it’s predictable. Unlike many other types of negative stress that we encounter in life, we know when holiday stress will begin and end, and we can make plans to reduce the amount of stress we experience and the negative impact it has on us.

Tips to Reduce Holiday Stress

The following are some tips you can try to help reduce holiday stress before it begins so that it remains at a positive level, rather than an overwhelming one.

1. Set Your Priorities

Before you get overwhelmed by too many activities, it’s important to decide what traditions offer the most positive impact and eliminate superfluous activities. For example, if you usually become overwhelmed by a flurry of baking, caroling, shopping, sending cards, visiting relatives and other activities that leave you exhausted by January, you may want to examine your priorities, pick a few favorite activities and really enjoy them, while skipping the rest.

2. Scale It Down

If you can’t fathom the idea of skipping out on sending cards, baking, seeing people, and doing all of the stuff that usually runs you ragged, you may do better including all of these activities in your schedule, but on a smaller scale.

Send cards, for example, but only to those with whom you maintain regular communication. Or, don’t include a personal note or letter in each one. Find a way to simplify. The same goes for the baking—will anyone be enraged if you buy baked goods from the bakery instead? If you find ways to cut corners or tone down the activities that are important to you and your family, you may enjoy them much more.

3. Be Smart With Holiday Eating

During the holidays, we may want to look and feel great (especially if we’re around people we don’t see often—we know that this is how we’ll be remembered), but there is so much temptation in the form of delicious food and decadent desserts, and a break from our regular routines—plus the addition of emotional stress—can all add up to overeating, emotional eating, and other forms of unhealthy eating. This year, plan ahead by being aware of your triggers, do what you can to have some healthy food at hand for each meal, be aware of your intake, and practice mindful eating.

4. Change Your Expectations for Togetherness

With family and friends, it’s important to be aware of your limitations. Think back to previous years and try to pinpoint how much togetherness you and your family can take before feeling negative stress. Can you limit the number of parties you attend or throw or the time you spend at each? Can you limit your time with family to a smaller timeframe that will still feel special and joyous, without draining you?

Also, when many of us are dealing with so-called difficult relatives, it’s okay to set limits on what you are and are not willing to do, including forgoing your visits or limiting them to every other year.

For those who may experience loneliness during the holiday season, consider inviting a group of friends to your home. If virtually everyone you know is with family during the holidays, you might consider volunteering to help those less fortunate than yourself. Many people report these experiences to be extremely fulfilling, and your focus will be on what you have rather than what you lack.

5. Set a Schedule

Putting your plans on paper can show you, in black and white, how realistic they are. If you find a time management planner and fill in the hours with your scheduled activities, being realistic and including driving time and downtime, you will be able to see if you’re trying to pack in too much.

Start with your highest priorities, so you will be able to eliminate the less important activities. Be sure to schedule in some time to take a nature walk each day if at all possible, as exercise and exposure to daylight can drastically reduce or even eliminate the symptoms of “SAD.” If climate or other factors prohibit this, try to find some time to sit by a window and look out; several minutes of exposure to natural light, even if through a windowpane, can help.

6. Breathe

This sounds like a no-brainer, but sometimes we forget to take deep breaths and really give our bodies the oxygen we need. It’s great if you can take ten minutes by yourself to do a breathing meditation but merely stopping to take a few deep, cleansing breaths can reduce your level of negative stress in a matter of minutes, too. If you visualize that you are breathing in serenity and breathing out stress, you will find the positive effects of this exercise to be even more pronounced.

For more information about Managing Typical Stressors During the Holiday Season, or to speak with someone at Foundations Counseling, please schedule an appointment with one of our licensed counselors today.