What to do if You’re Alone or Grieving for the Holidays
Television commercials, movies and greeting cards paint the cozy Norman Rockwell image of the holidays -- happy families sitting at a long, elaborately decorated table passing around platters of food while laughing and smiling as the fireplace crackles in the background.
If you’re facing an illness, death or divorce this holiday season, be sure to express your feelings openly and seek out support from friends, family and local support groups.
As much as people may want to live up to this beautiful image, it isn’t the reality for many -- particularly for families who are struggling with overwhelming feelings of unhappiness. Life changes or stressors such as recent separation, divorce, deployment, death or aloneness can all lead to feelings of sadness and grief during the holidays.
Unfortunately, these idealized images that flood our living rooms are a myth that tends to exacerbate isolation and feelings of being flawed for the millions of people who will be alone during this season.
“There’s so much hype for this wonderful time of togetherness,” Elaine Rodino, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist in Santa Monica, Calif., told PsychCentral, “that it accentuates the feeling of being alone and disconnected.”
Holidays can be most difficult, bringing up feelings of anger and sadness, for those who lost loved ones and are going through the grieving process.
Remembering Loved Ones in Your Own Unique Way
Everyone grieves in their own way and there really aren’t any right or wrong ways of doing it, however it’s important to keep communication lines with other family members open. You should also reach out for support when you need it.
Most of all, listen to your heart and come up with a coping plan for the holiday season.
One special way to help ease the pain is by honoring your loved ones at this time of year with symbolic and meaningful traditions. Here are some ways you can do this:
Pick up a special candle and light it in memory of your loved one
Make an ornament out of something that reminds you of your loved one, such as incorporating a favorite color or saying, or decorating the ornament with a picture of them
Prepare a favorite or traditional meal your loved one enjoyed making and invite your friends and family over for a special meal
Visit the cemetery or go to a place you shared special times together such as a favorite restaurant
Plant a tree or bush in your garden so you have something special to remember them by each year
Put together a scrapbook with pictures and captions. You can then reminisce over fond memories of your loved ones during holiday get-togethers
Donate to a charity that meant something to your loved one such as a favorite religious or educational institution, veteran organization or private foundation
Going through the holiday season after dealing with a life stressor can generate feelings of heartbreak and exhaustion. Experts say the key to facing these difficult life transitions is the delicate balancing act of finding ways to create new memories and traditions while honoring the old ones.
Here are some tips to keeping communication open with your family during these difficult times, along with ideas to build new traditions:
Be Honest with Your Children
Your child may express wishes to bring a loved one back, whether it’s a loved one lost or not there due to divorce. It’s important to acknowledge their feelings and then gently explain to them that the loved one will not be there.
Hold a Family Meeting
Before the frantic pace of the holidays sets in, plan to have a family meeting to get everything out in the open and discuss any issues, difficulties and expectations. Make it fun and light, sitting around a fireplace or with the soothing atmosphere of candles lit and holiday music in the background. Everyone should be encouraged to participate and voice their feelings openly -- and be given respect if they don’t feel up to sharing.
Honor the empty seat if there has been a death or absent family member and allow yourself to be happy
Put together a posterboard collage of pictures and familiar sayings of those who are absent and remember that it's not a showing of disloyalty to the loved ones to laugh and have a good time.
Overcome feelings of rejection brought on by divorce
You can deal with your sense of loss by doing something simple, yet symbolic, like lighting candles at the dinner table as representation that you are moving on with your life.
Start a new tradition
You could get out in nature and take a walk in the woods alone or with your family or take a drive to your special sanctuary that brings you comfort and peace.Or, watch a favorite funny holiday movie like The Christmas Story or National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, and reap the benefits of hearty laughter, which can be as therapeutic as a good cry.
Reach out to others when you feel alone or find others in your situation and invite them over for dinner
Let friends and family know that you would enjoy sharing their holiday celebration with them. Getting together with others or inviting others to your home that are in the same circumstance can lead to enriching experiences. You can ask them to bring a favorite dish to share.
Do something spiritual
This could be something as simple as keeping a gratitude journal and writing down everything and everyone you are grateful for. This will help you keep a positive attitude, improve your well-being and lessen the focus on the loss of your loved ones.
Acknowledge your pain
Release your emotions if you feel the need. Cry, get angry, punch a pillow or scream in the privacy of your home or even in your car. Letting your feelings out will create an opening in your heart to allow happiness in from the holiday season.
Nurture your mind and body
If you feel the need to spend time alone, do nurturing things for yourself such as buying some beautiful flowers, preparing a loving dinner for yourself, listening to your favorite music and focusing on all the things that bring you happiness.
Volunteer: Bring yourself back to the real meaning of the holidays by giving back to others
When you volunteer, you can expect two big rewards. Volunteering will nurture your soul and give you feelings of fulfillment, and surrounding yourself with others dedicated to the same cause will energize your spirit of giving while helping others less fortunate.
Enjoying Your Alone Time
Whether you are alone during the holidays out of choice or circumstance, you can still have a fulfilling holiday season. Even if you’re not alone, we recommend carving out some time from your hectic holiday schedule to treat yourself to some alone time.
Here are four things to do to make your alone time memorable:
Get out and embrace the holiday season—Visit places that make you feel good or stimulate your interests such as museums, holiday festivals, plays, the local zoo or driving around and looking at festive holiday decorations.
Tackle a home project you’ve wanted to accomplish—Work on that guest room, repaint a bathroom in need of updating or do some indoor planting.
Rekindle a hobby—Pick up an old hobby or talent like painting, writing or playing a musical instrument.
Indulge in your own personal spa treatment—Read your favorite novel or watch a movie you’ve wanted to see under a comfy blanket on the couch. You can make some hot chocolate to stay cozy and warm.
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Is it the Holiday Blues or Serious Depression?
Experts say that many people get the holiday blues and more than 19 million Americans suffer from depression year-round and struggle with it to a much greater degree around the holidays.
It is important to know the difference between the occasional holiday blues and slipping into a serious depression.
“If anyone shows a lack of interest in usual activities, sleep disturbances, weight changes or physical symptoms for several weeks, they should see a healthcare professional to determine if they have clinical depression,” said Debra L. Wentz, Ph.D., chief executive officer of New Jersey Association of Mental Health Agencies, Inc., in Stanford’s Wellsphere. “Treatments and other support are available and have been proven effective. However, without treatment, depression can lead to many serious complications, such as physical illness, drug or alcohol addiction or suicidal thoughts.”
Symptoms of holiday blues include:
The key distinction to be on the lookout for is the length of time you experience these symptoms. Holiday blues usually continue on for a few days to a few weeks after the holiday season ends.
“In addition to having strategies for relieving stress, individuals can try to avoid situations that cause stress or alcohol or drug cravings. Having at least one friend or family member to provide support is equally important,” said Dr. Wentz.
Tips to Keep Your Spirits High and Stress Levels Down this Holiday Season
If you’re facing a stressful holiday this year, please use these top tips to keep your stress levels to a minimum:
Eat healthy foods to keep your energy levels high and your junk-food cravings low.
Avoid alcohol at parties -- Choose non-alcoholic beverages, as alcohol is a depressant.
Keep your stress levels down with plenty of sleep, regular exercise such as the wonderful program from MySheaNetics.com and staying out of family arguments.
Clear your mind of the day’s stressors and bring peace to the end of your day by listening to relaxing music: At SixWise, we love the Pure Relaxation CD to create a calming atmosphere and relieve stress. It's not a series of instructions giving you yet another thing to do. Instead the guided meditations on the Pure Relaxation CD help you to let go effortlessly, invoking your body's natural relaxation response.
Mary's voice-guided relaxations are accompanied by relaxing, soothing music thanks to her husband, Richard, who specializes in music for relaxation. It's designed to be an ideal tool for stress reduction, and using it repeatedly helps to develop a "relaxation habit" so that you find yourself automatically relaxing during the day.
Learn and practice stress-relief strategies -- To keep stress levels at bay, the staff at SixWise LOVES Staying Healthy in a Stressful World, the highly praised CD by Dr. Peter Reznik, one of the most respected mind/body integrative therapists of our time. The program will actually help you to embark on a practice for transforming your stress into life-enhancing experiences.
Be sure to seek professional help if your feelings of sadness or grief become overwhelming during the holiday season or any time of year.
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Delta County Independent December 17, 2008
Psychology Today December 9, 2009
Wellsphere October 22, 2008
PsychCentral.com Coping With Being Alone for the Holidays
PsychCentral.com Alone During the Holidays? Join the Crowd