“Happy Holidays” seems innocuous enough, a simple greeting we frequently use beginning in early December through the new year to greet loved ones and strangers alike. Even with all of our cultural and religious differences, it seems everyone celebrates something during this time. Schools provide a large winter break, employers often throw holiday parties for their employees, most non-essential businesses close to allow people time with loved ones, and decorations abound. It would seem an accurate greeting, but as many of us who deal with trauma or loss know, it’s just not that simple.
The holidays are a time for family, friends, traditions, and togetherness. These are ideal opportunities for the creation of strong, emotional memories imprinted on us from early childhood. What makes the holidays such a magical, special time for many is the very same thing that makes it one of the most difficult times of the year for those dealing with trauma or loss. When we go through a life-changing event or loss, strong memories can be a reminder of the person we were prior to the loss or trauma.
It’s important to remember that these feelings are not abnormal. There are things that you can do to create new memories and holiday traditions. It is possible to feel joy again during the holidays while recognizing that what you have gone through has changed you.
Tips for Healthy Holidays
Below are some suggestions that might help from one of our trusted mental health providers, Aquanatte Jackson at Silver State Health, for those who have experienced a loss or trauma. For additional holiday coping techniques, please visit VegasStrongRC.org/holidaycoping.
Be honest with yourself and allow yourself to feel. Give yourself permission to express your emotions. If you feel the urge to cry, cry. It is not necessary to repress emotions or “normalize” yourself during the holidays. Choose to participate in only those holiday events that you feel up to and give yourself permission to opt-out of festivities.
Celebrate new traditions. Family rituals are at the heart of the holiday season, but for those experiencing loss, these traditions can bring new waves of sadness and fatigue. Experts suggest making room for change and letting go of or altering traditions that are painful. Celebrating a new ritual can set boundaries that can allow you to be both mindful of your grief and create tangible reminders of your loved ones.
Scale back on responsibility for the moment. In the midst of loss, it can be tempting to delve into obligations too soon during the grieving process. Make time for yourself and avoid taking on new responsibilities. It is okay to put down the phone and enjoy things like movies or reading. Taking time to absorb the full meaning of the loss is critical to the coping process and the ultimate act of self-care.
Seek out assistance. Everyone deals with grief differently and seeking assistance is a normal response to the overwhelming emotions associated with grief. By relying on a support system, you can grieve in a healthy way and in a safe environment without judgment. You can join a support group, lean on family and friends, or seek professional help to filter through the complexities of coping with the pain, fear, guilt, and anxieties associated with loss.
Plan ahead for the holiday celebrations. Select which holiday parties or events to attend and which ones to decline. Creating a plan can bring a sense of security and comfort and reduce feelings of being overwhelmed. You may want to spend the holiday nights with family or friends for physical proximity, comfort, or support.
We’re Here for You
The Vegas Strong Resiliency Center has also scheduled additional support sessions focused on the challenges of the season. There will be a holiday coping Trauma Recovery Yoga event provided by Brenda Hershey on December 22 and the Scherwenka sisters will be doing a special mindfulness session on December 29. We also have our regularly scheduled support groups and our HEART Peer Support team has specially trained peer mentors available to connect with. Please know that you are not alone.