A Healthier Tomorrow – December 2018

A Healthier Tomorrow – A happy holiday season?

Imagine a Healthier Tomorrow

By Alison H. Page

Credited to multiple mental health resources that provided ideas and inspiration. 

What is your perspective on Christmas?

Are you looking forward to it? Are you dreading it?

For a lot of people, and for many major world religions, this time of year is a time for spiritual and religious celebration and renewal.  It is a time for gathering with family and friends to share joy and appreciation for what is good in our lives and in our world.  It starts with Thanksgiving and ends with the ringing in of the new year.  The season often brings with it a sense of wonder and joy.

For many people, however, the holiday season is a time of mixed emotions. In this month’s column we will discuss some of the emotions people feel during the holidays and some strategies to deal with them. 

Depression and anxiety: If you struggle with depression and/or anxiety generally, you may find your symptoms worsen over the holidays.  You may find yourself wanting to escape the “holiday cheer” or those who seem overly positive and happy.

But, don’t let your feelings defeat you. Find a healthy way to cope, cling to family and friends, surround yourself with people who are balanced and not insensitive or overly positive, embrace alone time, and push through it.

Low energy, motivation, disinterest: Low energy or motivation and disinterest can all be signs of depression. If you’re not careful things can escalate further into a depression that will be difficult to shake.

Resentment, anger, jealousy: Christmas often includes the purchasing of a lot of gifts for people around us including expensive gift shopping. Even if you don’t know anyone who buys expensive gifts, the thought is most likely in your mind that “other people can buy expensive things and I can’t.” These feelings can lead to feeling hopeless, helpless, or insignificant. What’s the point in celebrating Christmas if you can’t buy the people you love what you want them to have? A lot of people feel this way and often miss the most significant part of this holiday: faith, love, miracles, charity, inspiration, and hope.

The reality is most people do not spend a lot of money on Christmas gifts.  You certainly would not believe that if you watch TV advertisements.  But it is true.  Don’t overspend. Spending money you don’t have is never worth the anxiety it produces.  Set a budget for gift giving and stick to it.  You can also give gifts that do not cost little or no money, gifts of service or time. 

Grief:  If you have recently lost a loved one with whom you would otherwise be celebrating this holiday season, you might be finding yourself wanting to burrow under your covers with a box of tissues until the holidays have passed. When you have lost someone special, your world losses its celebratory qualities. Holidays only magnify the loss. The sadness feels sadder and the loneliness goes deeper.  

You can and will get through the holidays. Rather than avoiding the feelings of grief, lean into them. It is not the grief you want to avoid, it is the pain. Here are some things that might help you.

Be patient, kind and compassionate with yourself about what is true for you. There are no set rules about how to face the holidays carrying the loss of a loved one. This is a very personal matter. For many of us, the holidays trigger memories of thoughts, feelings, tastes, smells, rituals and traditions shared with our loved one. Without this person, the holidays may feel hollow and meaningless. If possible, reach for the deeper meaning of these holy days and the privilege of having shared them with someone you loved. Sometimes we take that for granted until we lose it.

Have a Plan A/Plan B – Plan A is you go to the holiday dinner with family and friends. If it doesn’t feel right, have your plan B ready. Plan B may be a movie you both liked or a photo album to look through or a special place you went to together. Many people find that when they have Plan B in place, just knowing it is there is enough.

If appropriate, create a new ritual to honor the memory of your deceased loved one as you celebrate the holidays. Say a prayer about your loved one before the holiday dinner.  Light a candle for your loved one.  Have everyone tell a funny story about your loved one.  At your place of worship remember them in a prayer.

Try the holidays in a new way or cancel the holiday all together. Yes, you can cancel the holiday. If you are going through the motions and feeling nothing, cancel them. Take a year off. They will come around again. For some, staying involved with the traditions of the holidays is a symbol of life continuing. Let the holiday routine give you a framework during these tough times.

Take loving care of yourself. Grief takes many forms. You might find yourself lethargic or grumpy or somehow out of sorts. That’s OK. Just stay focused on what is happening inside you and tend to yourself as you would to anyone else you love deeply. Love yourself deeply through this time.

It is very natural to feel you may never enjoy the holidays again after the loss of a loved one. Remember that the holidays will pass. They will certainly never be the same as they were. However, in time, most people are able to find meaning and joy in the holidays again. 

There are resources available to help people struggling with these emotions.  If you, or someone you know, is struggling, please reach out.  Your medical provider can assist you or connect you with people who can help. Learn more about our behavioral health services at wwhealth.org or call 715-684-1111.