Dealing with Loss, Depression, or Grief During the Holidays
12/14/12 1:57 PM
By Alicia Jacobs, Excelsior Life News Staff---
The holidays are a happy time for many, but for those lonely or depressed or dealing with loss, the season can elicit far harsher emotions. The first year after a breakup, divorce, or the loss of a loved one can be especially difficult during the holidays.
Gary McClain, PhD, a New York State licensed counselor, co-author of three self-help books, and faculty member at Excelsior College shared some insight on how you deal with grief during the holidays. Gary's latest book, "After the Diagnosis" is available on Amazon.
Excelsior Life: Do people process grief differently?
Gary McClain, PhD: Yes. The process of grief is unique to each individual, depending on our own personalities, and the relationship with the person. However, it is important to allow yourself to grieve in your own way and to reach out for help when you need it.
Grief has a way of sneaking up on us when you think you are doing fine. A simple comment from someone can trigger memories that we hadn’t thought about, and the pain of loss. For example, the smell of cookies baking can remind you about how much your loved one enjoyed cookies. Those little details, temporarily forgotten, but so significant, can result in both great joy in remembrance, but also great pain of loss.
People aren’t “trained” to deal with grief. They figure it out as they go along. It is important not to be afraid of feelings or let them overwhelm you. The holidays are going to stir up a lot of feelings, but this is all part of the grief process.
Excelsior Life: Based on personality, do people deal with loss differently?
McClain: Yes, some people reach out and others withdraw. Those naturally extroverted thrive on being with others. They need to get connected with people, plan activities with other people and not isolate themselves. Those who are introverted need to go off by themselves and recharge and not be constantly dragged into social situations when they need to have alone time.
It depends where you are in the grief process. Balance is important. We need some people time and some alone time.
Excelsior Life: What advice do you give someone personally dealing with loss and/or grief?
McClain: Decide what you can participate in and what you can’t. The key is balance, setting limits where you need to set them. Let yourself feel, even if your emotions are all over the place. This is all part of the grieving process. If you need to go off by yourself and have a good cry, don’t deny yourself. Don’t place any expectations on yourself for how you should or shouldn’t feel.
It is also important to be aware of what kind of support you need, emotional and practical. Keep in mind the people who can be helpful and you can reach out to versus those situations where you may feel that it would be best to avoid. If you need help with the kids, make sure you let friends and relatives know how they can help. People who want to comfort you may not always say or do the right thing. Let them know what they can do to help.
Spiritual involvement can also be so helpful during this time. Loss introduces questions of meaning. Talking with a clergyperson or attending holiday services can make a big difference.
Excelsior Life: If you are a friend of someone going through a tough time with a loss, what do you recommend?
McClain: Let them know that you are there for them during this especially hard time and you are standing by!
Don’t push yourself off on them, or lecture, or tell them how they should be feeling or what they should be doing. Invite them to participate in holiday activities, even just to have lunch, but don’t push them too hard. Offer to help them with their holiday traditions, offer to help them pick out a tree and put it up, help with shopping, baking, or creating celebrations for their children.
Keep in touch with them, just quick check-ins.
Excelsior Life: What are the warning signs that you or someone you know needs additional help dealing with loss?
McClain: Some deal with loss by distracting themselves from the pain. But if you are experiencing symptoms of depression, including having difficulty functioning day to day, then it is time to reach out to a mental health professional. Other warning signs include:
• Isolating yourself, when you need to spend some time getting support from other people.
• Drinking too much, using prescription drugs like painkillers or sleeping pills or anti-anxiety meds that the doctor may have prescribed for occasional use, or that you pulled out of the back of the medicine cabinet, or borrowed from someone else.
• Over-eating or not eating enough.
• Not getting exercise, inactivity.
• Having trouble doing your job.
• Preventing children or other family members from having a holiday.
Remember, don’t become over-scheduled or over-committed. Take time for self-care and adequate rest.