FORT LEE, Va. (Feb. 2, 2012) -- The holidays have come and gone. The presents have all been put in their places and the radio is no longer playing those familiar seasonal tunes. Life has assumed its regular day-to-day pace - except for one thing. The grief we felt so strongly because of the loss of a family member or friend is still with us. Perhaps the feelings of loss are even stronger now than before as we realize the absence of the one we wish we could be with in the new year ahead.
There is no doubt that one of the most difficult life events we will ever encounter is the loss of a family member or friend. What a void death leaves in our lives, not to mention the difficult days, months and years we spend grieving the loss. Managing grief during the holidays, when all of the season's activities swirl around us, is difficult. It is no less difficult after the holidays recede into everyday life, and we find ourselves with the time to remember and feel our loss perhaps even more intensely.
Self-care is important all year round. This article offers a few tips on improving your self-care and coping more effectively with grief regardless of the season.
In my work with Soldiers, I meet many who are struggling with grief and loss. Their symptoms include mental distress as well as physical pain. The symptoms of depression frequently mirror those of bereavement. Depression can occur concurrently with bereavement or can develop months after an individual's loss. Some of the most common symptoms associated with bereavement are sad mood, anger, feelings of helplessness, loneliness, guilt, fear and anxiety.
Physical symptoms often include disruption in one's sleep routine, stomachaches, headaches, difficulty breathing and fatigue. One of the primary differences between depression and bereavement is that the grieving individual most often perceives his or her symptoms as "normal" whereas an individual who is experiencing depression doesn't always understand exactly what is causing his or her symptoms.
Despite the difficulty loss brings to our lives, we can learn how to cope and heal. The most important first step is to acknowledge our feelings of loss. Healing is accelerated when we allow our tears an outlet. Reaching out for help from friends, family, clergy and/or a mental health provider is crucial. It is important to actively resist the inclination to isolate ourselves from others. Engaging with those who care about us helps us strengthen bonds and stay active.
Seeking out opportunities to share our many feelings as well as our memories of our loved one brings comfort and a sense of connectedness. Writing about our loved one, either by journalling or through letters to our loved one, helps us express our more private feelings and thoughts.
Regular exercise helps us sleep better and can increase the chemicals in our brains that elevate mood. It is important to try to avoid using food as a means of comfort.
Too much fat or sugar can negatively impact moods. Drinking alcohol can also exacerbate sadness or anger. It is important to accept that healing from grief and loss takes time, and our emotions will ebb and flow.
Be kind to yourself. Be kind to others, i.e., volunteer at an agency in which you have an interest.
Above all else, seek peace and quietude within yourself. A comfortable chair, a good book and a cup of hot tea with a photo of your loved one nearby goes a long way toward helping you find the serenity essential to healing both during and after the holiday season.