Holidays that bring some families together can cause other families to feel the absence that loved ones have left. They can be a time of excitement and joy for many people, but for some, it can be stressful or overwhelming — worsening feelings of depression or anxiety.
David J. Puder, MD, medical director of the MEND partial and intensive outpatient program at the Loma Linda University Behavioral Medicine Center (BMC), says the holidays can come with added emotional, financial and social anxiety.
“The additional worry can be challenging to manage, but there are strategies to make these stressors more manageable,” Puder says. Building a support system is important when you feel anxious, he says. “Knowing how to deal with painful emotions can help protect your mental health.”
Puder provides tips for dealing with difficult emotions during this holiday season.
Process the grief.
“If your emotions become much to bear on your own, a mental health professional can help you work through your grief,” Puder says. Meeting with an expert who knows how to walk through difficult emotions with a patient can promote faster healing. While it might feel easier to suppress the pain, going through the process of grieving can help in long-term healing.
Celebrate the loved and lost.
It can be difficult to think about a lost loved one, but one method of dealing with this pain can be through celebrations. “Do an activity that reminds you of your loved one, specifically the gifts they gave you. For example, if they did not give you the attention you needed growing up, but taught you independence, grieve the loss but celebrate the gift of being independent,” Puder says. Cook their favorite meal, do an activity they enjoyed or spend time with others remembering the lost.
Create new traditions.
Make memories with the people still around you. It might feel easier to close down, but Puder recommends pursuing friendships with individuals who are safe people. “Safe people are those who accept your feedback, can listen to you, and are open to growing. These people are hard to find, but when you do, invest the energy to pursue doing fun things with them.”
Know what to expect.
While there are many ways to cope effectively with pain, the best thing you can do is allow yourself to grieve, Puder says. “If you know you’re going to be experiencing negative feelings, seek out a support system to help you work through the pain.” By adjusting expectations as you learn more about what to expect, it becomes easier to set realistic goals.
It takes time to recover from a major loss, and it may feel as though healing isn’t coming quickly enough. “Even if you’re frustrated about the process, stick with it,” Puder says. “It takes time, but the healing at the end is worth the journey. I have seen people who have suffered great tragedies live a great life. Sometimes it takes getting professional help, which if you feel stuck, can really be the next step forward.”
If anxiety or depression is causing suffering in your life, or the life of someone you care about, visit our behavioral health services website and learn more about how Loma Linda University Behavioral Medicine Center can help. Request information on a diagnosis or treatment, or any behavioral health concerns, and one of our intake coordinators will contact you.