Coping with Stress and Grief at Christmas Time

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By Gayle A. Roberts, CNP, MSN, RN

December 3, 2018

Coping with Stress and Grief at Christmas Time

   Amidst the merriment of Christmas can be a time of stress and sorrow. Some people strive to provide the "perfect Christmas" only to be disappointed. For some, the holiday can mean accumulating debt while trying to purchase all the items on a loved one’s "list." Decorating can mean hours of, "Where is that ornament Grandma gave us?" or, climbing a ladder as someone else supervises the "exterior illumination."

   The media makes one feel that Christmas should be all "wrapped up" by Thanksgiving.  For many, the holidays are a time for feeling the impact of a job loss, money shortages and the lack of goods that others seem to have so much of. Making the "8 types of cookies that I always have" can be fun, but, stressful after the kids leave you with a zillion stars yet to sprinkle. Some are grieving the loss of a loved one. The empty chair at the holiday table can be a powerful reminder of the laughter, joy and storytelling that is now gone. And, even if the song says there is "no place like home for the holidays," this is not always possible. 

   Memories of Christmas past are strong for everyone and can cause unexpected moments or "triggers" of emotions that can be uncomfortable and stressful. For those who grieve, Christmas just might be the holiday they would rather "skip" this year.

  The good news is that there are ways to make the holidays less stressful. Instead of fighting crowds, one can purchase gifts online or by phone. A budget can be set up early in the year in order to provide for expenses that occur. Take frequent rest breaks while making everything, "just right." Maintain a balanced diet. Remember that traditions can be changed. Expect that others may need to adjust to the new "routine." For instance, a mother once decided to use a smaller tree only to hear from everyone, "What happened to our tree?"

    It’s important to take time to reflect on the true meaning of the season. It isn't about the media telling you to get out to shop, light up your house, and "do it all" or Christmas won't be right. It is about the simple things. It is celebrating the joy of being together even if it is the only time of the year. It is the birthday of Jesus and the promises of His coming that are celebrated.

   For those who grieve, it may be helpful to change traditions. Doing the same things one has done every year may seem like a good plan, but it can set you up for strong emotions as the memories of the loss can be vivid. Create a special ornament to hang on the tree or other decoration in remembrance. Light a candle as a family in your loved one’s memory. It is helpful to talk about the loss instead of avoiding it for fear of upsetting someone. If you know someone who is grieving, reach out to them to tell them that you remember and will keep them in your prayers. Crying is helpful; it is like, "gentle melting."

    For everyone, remember to take time with your family to just be together. Read and share a Christmas story on a snowy afternoon. Sit and watch a holiday movie. Make decorating a family event even though the ornaments may not be hung as well as in years past. Remember that the gift of yourself, your time, is the best gift of all. If one thinks about it, it is actually easier to buy and give a gift rather than to give of your time.

   If you take medications, be sure to take them on time in the hustle of the holiday. Diabetics need to remember to do blood sugar checks as directed because holiday treats can cause changes. Keep appointments with your healthcare provider. If needed, schedule an exam or screening test before the end of the year in order to help start your new year off in good health.

Know that many people can become depressed over the holidays, so see your healthcare provider for advice and talk about your thoughts with an understanding friend. Take short naps during holiday chores. Often, large family get-togethers can prompt needs for emergency care especially if large groups of children "play." A head can be bumped or a gift can be dangerous in the wrong hands. Sickness and injury do not take a holiday and our Trinity Hospital Twin City Emergency Department is here to help if needed. 

   Finally, it is often the imperfect, "Griswald Family" Christmas that becomes the most memorable. The dried out turkey, the cake made with salt instead of sugar, and 12 inches of snow are laughed about and shared for years to come. Take time to reflect on the true spirit of the holidays. Know that the "perfect" Christmas will probably never happen. Expect that some things may go "haywire," and “Merry Christmas" to all!

Gayle. A. Roberts, CNP, MSN,RN

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