Karuna Counseling’s Newsletter Articles

December 16, 2007

Holidays and Grief

By Micky O’Leary, Ph.D

You may have noticed it’s the holiday season. (I saw Christmas lights fighting for Halloween shelf space in late September and my neighborhood convenience store is now selling “candy cane cappuccino.”) Whatever your personal beliefs, it’s more or less impossible to ignore the television commercials, shopping promotions, Hallmark specials, outdoor decorations, wrapping paper, and many other obvious reminders which bombard us daily from October through the end of the year.

This can be an exciting, although stressful, time of year. Most of us have been brought up to believe that the holiday season is “magical,” a time when families get closer, hearts get lighter, and good will abounds.

For many people, the holidays are an especially wonderful time. But for just as many, the holidays are exhausting, expensive, disappointing, and/or downright depressing. This is especially true for those who are experiencing a particular sadness or loss in their lives. In a time when connection and abundance are being depicted all around, it’s especially hard to be without the people or things that are important to us.

Few people go through life without experiencing major loss(es), and those losses can seem especially painful during the holidays. Whether it’s the death of a loved one, the absence of family, illness, losing a job, the ending of a relationship, financial setbacks, or any number of other difficult life events, grieving often intensifies when we’re faced with the huge discrepancy between our own experience and what appears to be the experience of the majority. Memories of happier times and friends and family who seem excited by the festivities may only increase our sense of being isolated and out of step.

If the holidays are hard for you, be assured that you are not alone. Many people do not feel like celebrating and wish they could somehow be transported from October to mid-January. If you are in that group, or just a little less than thrilled with the traditional holiday festivities, your feelings are understandable. This is an especially useful time to focus on ways to take care of yourself and reduce unnecessary stress.

One way to do this is by adjusting your expectations – of yourself, as well as others. Adopt a nurturing and self-accepting attitude toward yourself. Try not to feel guilty or self-critical because you feel sad or lonely. Seek support from family and friends. If they are a source of your stress, make sure you have some “down time” to rest and regroup. You may even consider volunteering some time to those who are in need – helping others is often the best way to help yourself feel better.

If this is your first holiday season since the death of a loved one, be especially gentle with yourself. Recognize the painful nature of “firsts” and treat yourself kindly. You may choose to keep traditional holiday activities or you may decide you want to break with tradition and do something entirely different. There is no right or wrong in choosing the best way to cope with a very painful time.

Whatever your loss has been, know that grieving takes time and that it is our nature to heal and grow. Just as we do what is necessary for our bodies to heal physically, we can make the choices that will allow us to heal emotionally. Regardless of where we are in our lives, this time of year offers opportunities for us to learn more about our emotional needs and how to meet them.


November 16, 2007

Holiday Bill of Rights

Filed under: 2007 and earlier — karunacounseling @ 2:36 pm
Tags: , ,

By the American Psychological Association

1. You have the right to say TIME OUT, anytime you need to. Time out to let up, blow a little steam, step away from the holidays, have a “huddle” time and start over.

2. You have the right to TELL IT LIKE IT IS. When people ask, “How are you?” you have a right to tell them how you REALLY feel, not just want they want to hear. You need to take care of yourself, be attuned to your feelings (P.S. You also have the right to smile and say you’re fine, because telling them how you really feel isn’t worth your time – some people will never understand anyway.)

3. You have the right to some “BAH HUMBUG” days. You don’t have to be “Jolly Old St. Nicholas” all the time. You are not a bad person just because you don’t feel like singing Christmas carols all day.

4. You have the right to DO THINGS DIFFERENTLY. There is no law that says you must always do the holidays the same way. You can send 10 cards instead of 100 – or no cards at all. You can open presents at someone else’s house. You can do without a tree. You can have pizza instead of a turkey. Make up your own rules.

5. You have a right to BE WHERE YOU WANT TO BE. Be at home, or with relatives, or with friends. Be in any city or state you choose. There’s no law that says you have to stay home.

6. You have the right to have some FUN. Don’t be afraid of what someone will say if they see you laughing and having a good time. Laughter is every bit as therapeutic as tears. If you are doing something that your loved one would have enjoyed, think of their laughter and feel their laughter inside of you.

7. You have the right to change direction in MID-STREAM. Grief is unpredictable. You may be all ready to go somewhere or do something and be suddenly overwhelmed, immobilized. When that happens, it’s okay to change your mind.

8. You have the right to do things at DIFFERENT TIMES. Go to church or synagogue at a different time. Open presents at a different time. Serve your meal at a different time. Go to bed at a different time. You are not a slave to the holiday clock.

9. You have the right to REST, PEACE, and SOLITUDE. You don’t need to be busy all the time. Take a nap whenever you need one. Take time to pray or meditate or recharge your spirit – it can do much more for you than eating another big meal.

10. YouYou have the right to DO IT ALL DIFFERENT AGAIN NEXT YEAR. Just because you change things one year or try something different, does not mean you have written it in stone. Next year you can always change it back or do it in yet, another new way.

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.