Stress Management Part 4: Christmas Stress

From Puddingstone Cottage

From Puddingstone Cottage

For many years I have spent the months of November and December working through the stressors of Christmas with my clients, whether they be families or individuals.  This is the time of the year when people can become acutely aware of the losses in their lives. While Christmas is a religious holiday, it is also a family holiday, and the feelings of grief, isolation and loneliness can be overwhelming.

Financial troubles, health concerns, and unrealistic expectations can also shift the joys of Christmas to misery. Holidays are a rocky road after we have suffered a loss. Whether it be the loss of a loved one, a family pet, a divorce, or a myriad of other situations, the loss is real and it hurts.

If you have recently lost a beloved family member, the ‘firsts’, without your loved one, and in particular the first Christmas, can be very intense with grief. Sometimes friends and other family members don’t know how or whether to acknowledge the loss. They fear ‘upset’, don’t know what to say, and generally may just feel at a loss to be helpful. This in itself can be upsetting for a grieving person as they feel they may need to take the lead around this, and open conversation to dispel ‘the elephant in the room’.

Here are some ideas that help people cope with the grief of a Blue Christmas: 

From Puddingstone Cottage
Be Kind to Yourself, and Allow Others to be Kind to You. This means be gentle with you, and protect yourself. Do not extend yourself beyond your energy and capabilities right now.  It also means asking for help when you need it. There is no shame in asking for help.

And if you are a friend, help by allowing grief to express itself in different ways. Keep trying to find ways to support and don’t give up. This does not mean be a pest, or not to listen to what people say they need, but rather be a “Ralphy Rabbit” from Aarvy Aardvark Finds Hope. This is an excellent children’s book on grief and I recommend it for all ages. Ralphy is there through thick and thin. He is a true buddy.

Allow time for feelings to come up. It is important not to bottle the feelings up. When you do this it has a huge impact on the body and can wreak havoc on your physical self. Blocked emotions impact your immune system, brain chemistry, blood sugar levels and hormones.

Remember the children. They are often the forgotten grievers. While people are on their own journey through grief, it is often hard to respond to the needs of the grief being expressed by the children. Children grieve in different ways depending on their developmental stages and their temperaments. It is important that someone be there for them.  Some ways of doing this are talking about your loved ones and sharing memories through stories, art, food, play, shopping and donating, or other simple pleasures. Light a candle. Make a favourite meal.

From Puddingstone Cottage
Remember you are not alone. Grief is a universal experience. Cope by having a plan A, B and C. If plan A becomes too much for you, move down the list. You have a right to change your mind. For some people cancelling the holidays all together and doing something entirely different helps. For others staying involved in family traditions works. There is no right or wrong. Do what works for you.  In my experience letting folks talk about their worries about ‘getting through Christmas’ often results in Christmas turning out better than they expected.

Wishing you and yours a peaceful Christmas,

From Puddingstone Cottage

From Puddingstone Cottage
Lois is a graduate from the Department of Family Studies (MSc.) University of Guelph. She has over 30 years’ experience working as a therapist in many capacities, helping families and individuals negotiate life’s changes from infancy to old age. Lois is registered with (CRPO) The College of Registered Psychotherapists and certified with OACCPP (The Ontario Association of Consultants, Counsellors, Psychometrists and Psychotherapists) and is an internationally certified EMDR practitioner. She has recently returned to the area and runs her practice out of Puddingstone Cottage in Bruce Mines. Lois can be reached at 519-369-2662.