Is a Loss or Severe Stress Making You Holiday less than Merry?

Christmas champagneAre you experiencing this holiday as a happy family time?  If you are going through the loss of a loved one through death (or divorce, etc.) or are in the midst of dealing with a severe life stressor, even a health care professional might just not be in the holiday spirit!

While many family members might want to be supportive to you, some may not know what to say to comfort you, so interactions with them may be strained or at least uncomfortable.  Many well-meaning loved ones could come across overly solicitous, asking you repeatedly how you are doing.  One person I know who was dealing with the suicide of her adult son said while she was polite in her responses to these people, she really wanted to snap “how do you think I am doing—my son is dead!”

Whether you are experiencing the full effect of a loss or a family member is going through it and you want to try to be there to support her/him emotionally, what you can do to help has to be tailored to the grieving/stressed out individual’s personality and needs.

While no one technique or support behavior works to help a person through this time of year, here are some suggestions that can be of help to ease the grief/stress (and that could also be modified to help another family member deal with this challenge).

How Can a Healthcare Professional Help Herself Through a Stressful/Grief ridden Holiday Season?

  1.  Be realistic—you may be a professional nurse or other healthcare professional, but still are human and feelings aren’t like a water faucet that can easily be turned on and off.
  2. Grief pangs are common, so letting family members know you may suddenly become teary-eyed for no apparent reason at a family gathering may help you not feel embarrassed or family members to feel confused.
  3. Make sure to get adequate sleep and nourishment which are both great stress combaters.  While I wish chocolate qualified in all four food groups, and moderate intake in fact can give women a feeling of well-being, too much can cause weight gain, which can then contribute to feeling more stressed or depressed.
  4. Remember the five stages of grief are not necessarily sequential and sometimes people who feel they are in the final stage of acceptance find themselves during the holidays returning to feeling depressed or angry, at least temporarily.  Trying to stay in the present moment distracting yourself with conversation, food preparation, etc, and practicing self-acceptance can help.
  5. You may wish to leave a deceased loved one’s favorite chair empty at a family gathering or in some other way honor the person’s memory.

Trying some of the above suggestions, I hope, will help bring you at least some holiday peace if not “cheer”.  I try to remember also that tough times do pass, and time does tend to heal.

If this holiday season is not ideal, and in fact might be emotionally challenging, please make sure to extend the same compassion and acceptance to yourself as you do to your clients!

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