Most people say that this is the worst time of year if you are trying to deal with the death of someone you love. I have a different opinion on this sentiment. I am not coming from a psychology point of view, but one of experience, having just lost the man that I loved last month. This is not only the most nostalgic time of year, but also the most festive, the most busy and for many, the most friendly. The following are some tips that have helped me during this Christmas season and perhaps they can help you too.
- Lean On Me – Friends have asked you what they can do for you, or have said to call when you need to talk. You may not feel like attending any parties, but there are many activities that can take your mind off your own grief. This is a lovely time of the year to have friends come over to keep you company, or to drop in on friends yourself. Let someone take you out for the day and go shopping or to some Christmas recital that might take your mind off your loss. It is also a great time of the year to volunteer or to offer to bake for Christmas sales, filling your home with warmth and comfort.
- Turn On The Radio – Filling your home with music can be very beneficial to combat depression. A CD can help, but I get more benefit out of the radio. There is more of a connection to the outside world with the live broadcast. Tune into one of the popular stations that tend to play more of the upbeat carols. Your home won’t seem quite so empty and lonely.
- Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas – While you may not feel like it at all, it will probably make you feel better if you can get up and haul out some of the Christmas decorations. I forced myself to put up the tree for my annual studio open house and while I did not put up the monumental display of other years, the decorated tree and some red cushions and pine boughs give a warmth to my home that comfort and envelop me.
- Keep Your Body Healthy – Keep a minimal amount of sweets and pastries in the house. When you are dealing with sorrow it is very easy to neglect yourself. Bad eating habits and Christmas treats will start to put weight on you and add to your depression with the bad effects that sugar has on your system. Too much coffee, wine and sugar stimulates your already overworked adrenal glands, making you feel tired and exhausted. This will only add to your depression. If you don’t feel like cooking, then try to stock your fridge with some healthy vegetables and fruits or dishes that friends have made for you.
- Just Breathe – You probably feel and ache in your heart like it is breaking or being crushed. Commonly known as ‘broken heart syndrome’ you are experiencing chest pains that are very real. You may even feel as if you cannot breath easily. An over-production of stress hormones are causing your arteries to constrict, decreasing the blood flow and the flow of oxygen. Take slow deep breaths in through your nose and exhale through your mouth. Repeat this several times and in a few minutes your stress hormones will begin to regulate themselves.
- Laughing vrs Crying – Watch some funny Christmas movies. Laughter stimulates your endorphins, making you feel less stressed and promotes a feeling of well-being. It relaxes you, boosts your immune system and increases blood flow which helps your heart to function better and will help take away some of the painful ache that you are physically feeling right now deep inside your chest. Crying on the other hand has the opposite effect. In a study on the effects of crying, over 60 percent of the study group said that they felt worse after crying alone, but a significant amount said that they felt better after crying with a friend. This led the psychologists to realize that it was the act of talking to a friend and not the actual crying itself that lifted their spirits. You may have your own favorite comedies, but here are two of my holiday favorites: ”National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” and “Home Alone”. Don’t neglect the power of the romantic comedies either. I have watched “The Holiday” over and over this season. It has brought back the feeling of love that Lennie and I shared and has made me feel happy each time that I have watched it.
- Get Moving - While watching some Christmas shows can be good for your soul, you may be tempted to sit in front of the TV all day or all evening long. Keep an inexpensive piece of exercise equipment where you like to watch TV. You can use weights, pilates bands or a yoga mat, or whatever you think you would actually use. I have an air-stepper in front of the TV. I can get on and off whenever I want and I sometimes have to force myself to use it, but it is a lot easier when it is right there beside you. In the daytime try to get out in the fresh air. It will honestly boost your outlook. I have found that my salvation is running through the woods with my West Highland Terrier, Chaucer.
- Can’t Buy Me Love – That is how the Beatles song goes, but you can buy love. It comes in many shapes and sizes and either purrs or barks. There is a reason that the stereotypical image of the woman who loses her husband and goes out and gets a dog exists: pets are comforting and welcoming. They are always happy to see you. They are always there to lend an ear to your woes. They can also lessen your anxiety if you are suddenly alone in your home and provide you with protection and a sense of security. Numerous studies have shown that the mere act of petting a dog or cat will lower your blood pressure. They also give you a reason to get up every day… because they need you. Your local animal shelter is full of dogs and cats that need someone to love just as much as you might need them.
- Look Out Instead of In – Dwelling on your past and your lost love and the life that you had with him/her is not healthy. Remember them, but don’t dwell. You have to move forward whether you want to or not. It is the only choice that we really have. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t still spend time with them in your mind or even in reality. I have found comfort in making a little area that is a tribute to Lennie and I with a lot of photos and some mementos that are special to me.
- A Little Fantasy is Okay – It is the stuff that movies and books are made of. We use to go out dancing every Friday night and had many impromptu whirls around the kitchen. We still do… there have been many moments when I have felt his presence beside me or just a favorite song or carol has started to play on the radio. So I dance. I dance alone, but feel as if I am still in Lennie’s arms, as we sway around the kitchen floor. You’re not crazy. Sometimes you may find yourself talking to your lost love. And you may even think that they are answering you. They are. They knew you so well that you know what their answers would be. What would they be telling you right now? Lennie would be saying to me, “It’s alright to miss me baby, but don’t cry for me. I am out of pain now and I am okay. And you will be okay too.” So when you think that you feel them beside you, know that they are there, for they will live eternally in your heart. More so at this time of the year than any other their spirit will be felt.
- Be Gentle With Yourself – Don’t push yourself. If the Christmas cards don’t get sent out and the house is not exactly the way you like it, it’s okay; Christmas will still come. Everyone (or at least the people who count) will understand.
- Count Your Blessings – Remember the words of one of the great writers of love: “It is better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all.” You had something that many people only ever hope for. You loved and were loved in return.
Blessings this Christmas,
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