How do we take charge of holiday emotions?
Some of us approach the holiday season with inspiration, some of us with reluctance, and still others with outright dread. We seek to rekindle the sense of magic that was generated in the traditions observed by our families, but often find ourselves riddled with confusion and feelings of emptiness. Nowhere are these feelings more prominent than when we are undergoing a major transition within our family such as a separation or divorce or enduring the loss of a beloved friend or family member. At a time when everyone is supposed to be happy and enjoying him or herself, we can feel a penetrating loneliness.
If you are surviving a loss this holiday season and are grieving, you may experience a painful mismatch between your feelings and the holiday cheer. The family and social pressures that accompany the countless holiday activities can be overwhelming. Many people who are grieving feel they would prefer to just go to sleep and wake up when the holidays are over.
Those individuals who seem to experience the most difficulty with the holidays are those who have not planned for the challenges they will encounter. The process of grieving is a physically and emotionally demanding period, consequently, when considering participating in the activities of the holiday season, it is important to curb our expectations.
Fortunately, there are practical skills we can apply to help navigate the holiday season with intelligence and grace while honoring the feelings of grief and loss. It is helpful to anticipate waves of emotion. Give yourself permission to feel and experience the emotional roller coaster ride that grief incites.
Expect physical reactions to an emotional response. Many people report a change in eating and sleeping habits, lack of energy, chest pain, headaches and nervousness. These physical and emotional responses are normal grief reactions and can be experienced by adults and children.
It is especially important to take care of your physical well being during extended periods of stress. In addition to the care-taking staples of exercise, rest, and eating a balanced diet, consider lowering your consumption of alcohol which, paradoxically, functions as an anti-depressant more than a relaxant.
One of the most difficult aspects of the holidays to deal with are the “traditions.” A death in the family may mean that a much-loved tradition may lose its joy.
The “death” of a family tradition, though another loss to survive, can engender traditions that may be just as meaningful and provide relief to an aching heart.
It is equally important to remember to not go it alone. There is no inoculation against loss. We have all endured heartache and we are all buoyed by the love and care of others. Look for the courage within yourself to confide in someone.
If you are interested in receiving more information about how to survive the holidays while surviving a loss, Tahoe Forest Hospice is offering a workshop on holiday survival Saturday, Dec. 6.
If you want more information or wish to register, contact Kathryn Hill at Hospice at 582-3534.
Also ask about our “Surviving Loss” Education Series and Support Groups beginning this winter.
Kathryn Hill is bereavement coordinator for Tahoe Forest Hospice.
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