Handling the Holidays

AdventWhen I was a child the holidays were an elaborate event. My nana prepared an exceptional menu of meats, fish, pastas and pastries that could make angels salivate. I still miss her meatballs!!

Cousins, aunts and uncles, godparents and various other people filled the house with boisterous talking, bellowing laughter, and an occasional argument.

Nana’s girlfriends spoke only Italian, and they smelled a little odd. But their pinch to your cheek, or bone-crunching hug only added to the fun.

However, October through December can be an excruciatingly painful time for those experiencing a loss.

In addition to the death of a loved one, divorce, illness, family trauma, job loss, or moving to a new location can cause depression during the holidays.

If the holidays are causing you stress or anxiety here are a few practical tips.


The ambush of emotions can attack at any time, therefore the wisest response is to prepare beforehand. Pinpoint a time that you believe may be particularly difficult such as Christmas morning, or Thanksgiving meal. Then determine a plan beforehand.


The difficulty of this time of year may be a reminder of your loss. Remember that it’s a season and it will pass. Don’t feel guilty if your goal for the holidays this year is to “get through it.”


Don’t hibernate. Insecure feelings may tempt you to isolate, but force yourself to go out even if it’s only for a short time.

LOWER your expectations.

Movies and songs often paint a very unrealistic picture of the holidays. Most people don’t have a Norman Rockwell family, it’s OK.

DON’T ANESTHETIZE the pain with drugs or alcohol.

Numbing emotional distress with chemicals often creates more depression and anxiety. Plus you may do something you will regret.


If old ornaments or trimmings cause too much pain don’t hang them this year. Put them aside for another time. Avoid fragrances, music, or locations that may trigger sadness.


Take care of your physical well-being. Healthy foods will give you strength; fattening foods and sugar can make you sluggish or worsen depression. Exercise produces natural stress reducers.

SHOP online if going to the mall is too stressful.

But watch for over spending as it may be a negative coping mechanism with disastrous results.


Have the phone number of your counselor, church, close friend or hotline already taped to your phone. Make the commitment to call someone if negative thoughts become intense.


Get sunshine. Winter can take its toll on our emotions by the loss of sun we experience. Take a walk during lunch if necessary.

INVITE a new same sex friend to see a movie, have dinner, or help decorate the house.

Precisely explain to your family and friends what you are capable of doing this year, and what you aren’t. Don’t let others guilt you into taking on more than you can handle.


People who have never suffered loss may not understand your sadness or sorrow during the holidays.


Do something completely different this year. Visit a friend, take a cruise, go to the mountains or the beach, go skiing or hiking. Find someone else who may be struggling this year and brainstorm. The list is endless.

© 2011 All rights reserved by Laura Petherbridge.