The holiday season will soon be upon us: the energy, the excitement and the stress. The pressure to create a picture-perfect holiday is evident in our society. From the barrage of commercials to hiring a company to decorate our homes to our own perceptions of a perfect holiday, the pressure for perfection often takes the joy out of the season.
For many of us, our friends and loved ones, we experience another type of stress during the holidays: loss, the loss of a loved one, loss of safety or loss of normalcy. We see loss in the empty chair at the dining room table, the missing loved in the family portrait, the gifts we thought of buying for that person, but didn’t. We feel loss in the disconnection of loved ones, the sadness of missing someone, and the voices and touch that no longer reach out to us.
Grief is also felt by those who have experienced trauma and abuse—grief for what used to be, safety that is no longer felt or relationships that were once whole. The holiday season thrusts upon us its concept of family, celebrations and happiness. It is a goal unlikely to be achieved but we work so hard every year to reach it.
This year, take a moment for self-care. Self-care is a purposeful action for your own physical, mental and emotional health. Believe it or not, sometimes we actually forget to breathe. Take a minute (or two) and breathe in and out so that each breath is five seconds. Breathe in for five seconds, out for five seconds. Research by Dr. Herbert Benson, who introduced the “Relaxation Response,” shows that breathing can change the physical and emotional response to stress.
Also, take time to check in with those who have experienced loss or abuse. I have a note on my desk that reads, “Don’t model avoidance.” I do not know who I need to credit for this quote, but I use it quite often. During the holidays, missing our loved ones is intensified. Feelings of isolation and sadness are magnified. Shame, blame and guilt about abuse may be greater. Many people feel uncomfortable bringing up these issues because they don’t want us to feel sad, they don’t want to remind us of the loss or they don’t know what to say. Survivors feel sadness. They remember their grief and their loss, and they don’t always know what to say. Don’t avoid people who need you or conversations that can happen. Intentions are apparent.
The following are some ideas for supporting those who have experienced loss or trauma:
- Ask about favorite memories of their loved one or special holiday traditions.
- Offer to bake or cook their favorite foods.
- Invite them out for coffee or lunch, or to a special event that you attend.
- Acknowledge the loss and pain that they are feeling. People share when they feel safe. That is the best gift of all!