As I walked through the holiday-themed aisles of Wal-Mart and “Let It Snow” played, I looked at the ornaments and reminisced on how my mom and I would choose the theme for the year. I quickly rush down another aisle to pull myself together. If only I would have known that Christmas 2014 was our last Christmas together, I would have purchased the peacock colors that year, but no we chose to go with traditional colors.
This year marks five years since her passing on July 2, 2015, four weeks from her 50th birthday. My heart still breaks, and moving forward, every July has been a hard month. Even harder now, because this year I lost my brother-in-law, also in July. 2020 has been an emotional rollercoaster; many are experiencing loss and sadness related to either death, separation or change, financial security, health – so many things.
With the holiday season upon us, as we look forward to the festivities – the traveling, the food, time with the family – some of us will be dreading the empty chair. Holidays may bring happiness, but the holiday blues are a reality for many. It can be a depressing time full of sadness and stress. The National Alliance on Mental Illness defines Holiday Blues as temporary feelings of anxiety or depression during the holidays that can be associated with extra stress.
What seems to make us sad and slide us into depression is the annual reminder of those who are no longer here. Of happier yesterdays, and hopeless today and tomorrows. Depression must be taken seriously, for this is not a condition that simply disappears after the ball drops on New Year’s. It’s an ailment that needs treatment, like any illness.
Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, a Swiss psychiatrist, is quoted as saying: “The reality is that you will grieve forever. You will not ‘get over’ the loss of a loved one; you will learn to live with it. You will heal and you will rebuild yourself around the loss you have suffered. You will be whole again, but you will never be the same. Nor should you be the be same, nor would you want to.”
There are days I catch myself thinking of the Thanksgiving menu and what decorations and place settings my mom would want, and I tear up. For me, this keeps her alive in my heart, and I remind myself that it is not bad to think of the past (the pleasant, as well as the difficult), because most memories during the holidays will hold great emotional value.
Actionable Helpful Tips
You might hear someone say, “I dread the holidays! “or “I wish this year will end already.” What they are truly dreading is the absence of the presence of those who used to be and the changing of past traditions. It’s during this time I feel like I must keep it together, not only for my family but for myself. Sadness is not depression, but only a part of it. Sadness is a painful part of life, one that we all must face. The holidays may not take away the sadness but here are some tips to help you cope this holiday season that has been suggested by licensed professionals.
- Don’t Isolate. Do something for someone else. Reach out and take time to remember those with empty chairs. Reaching out to someone in need is good for them and for you. You may not be able to fill their chair or heal their hearts, but the simple gesture of acknowledging their grief and pain can be uplifting and gratifying. If you don’t have someone to be with, volunteer to help those in need. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, suggests that volunteering is linked to reduced depressive symptoms because of its association with social connectedness.
- Engage in good conversation. Spending time with friends or engaged in stimulating conversation is good for the soul, mind and body. When we share our thoughts with others, we establish an emotional and mental connection that can be refreshing and heartwarming. Make time to socialize!
- Find something positive. Small things like saying thank you to someone for a kind gesture, expressing your appreciation to a spouse/partner, coworker or child, and writing holiday cards for gifts can make a difference for both you and those you share that positivity with. Also, find time to spend alone to reflect and grieve. Pushing down and ignoring feelings can lead to depression and other health issues. Let yourself fully feel your feelings. Write down several things (memories, kindnesses, anything positive) each day that you are grateful for. It helps to identify five things at the end of the day that went well or left you feeling gratitude. Then do something you find nice for yourself.
- Make time to rest. Amidst the hustle and bustle of getting things done for the holidays, remember to take time to rest. Rest and relaxation are critical to managing stress and minimizing anxiety. Those who find it difficult to let go and relax may find yoga, breathing or stress management methods helpful. Regulating your breath has a calming effect on the mind and loosens tension held in the body. Sitting quietly for 5-10 minutes at a time each day to simply be aware of your breathing can enhance relaxation. If you’re sad or lonely, treat yourself to a warm bath and a cup of hot tea. It helps.
As you begin to prepare for the holiday season, remember to be kind to yourself. Honor your feelings, for they are valid. You cannot force yourself to be in the holiday spirit, but you can push yourself to take positive actions to protect your emotional well-being, and that’s a form of self-care. Make time for leisure activities that bring you joy, whether painting, singing, playing music, working on crafts, or simply hanging out with friends. If you anticipate that the holidays will be challenging this year, and you can use support implementing the actions suggested, make an appointment with a mental health provider. Having someone who is trained specifically to talk about your feelings is invaluable. Remember, asking for help is a sign of strength and movement toward the best version of yourself.
Mental Health Advocate & Speaker
SisStar Support Circle