6 Tips to Managing Emotions During the Holidays

As a community who cares for their residents and staff who may be feeling the holiday blues, The Preserve is committed to offering a whole-person approach to wellness and lifestyle, including programs geared toward living a full and enriched life. Wellness is not only physical; it is mental, emotional, and spiritual as well. Life Enrichment at The Preserve includes our QuILT (Quality in Living Today) philosophy which focuses on abilities – not limitations. This program promotes the health and well-being of each resident focusing on the six dimensions to QuILT: spiritual, physical, emotional, occupational, social, and intellectual.

Knowing the holiday season is not always joyful for everyone, we reached out to our Director of Social Services, Dawn Powers, and asked her to share some tips for seniors and their families to get through the upcoming holidays when grieving is a factor. Read Dawn’s tips as well as her perspective based on personal experience with this time of year:

Do you ever feel like it would be easier to skip the holidays? For many seniors, caregivers and individuals with mental health issues, the answer to this question is yes, often accompanied with a plethora of reasons. The holiday season brings extra commitments, expectations and emotions, making it easy to lose focus amongst the images of happy families, Christmas lights, music, food and of course, shopping. What is considered to be the “happiest” time of the year for many often becomes a reminder of what is missing.

The holiday season can ignite the grief inside of us instead of bringing joy. Whether it is unpleasant memories, lack of family or friends, feelings of loneliness, an old or recent loss, a loved one in the hospital or nursing home, for many, grief becomes intensified during this time of year. Those who suffer from mental health illnesses such as depression or anxiety, often have increased symptoms during the holiday season. Some find it more difficult to get through one holiday over another, whereas others find the entire season challenging. Finding ways to make it through this “joyous” time of the year often seems to be more work than it’s worth. I speak from experience when I say it helps to find a technique that works for you because no matter what your pain is, the holidays will continue to come whether you deal with it or not.

Christmas, for me, is still a major challenge. It is reminder of what was and will no longer be. Christmas was both my husband and my mother’s favorite time of the year. In all of my life, I have never witnessed two people enjoy decorating and putting up Christmas trees and lights more than the two of them. Sadly, Christmas was also the last holiday my children and I shared with my husband, which often leads people to say things like “be thankful for those last memories.” While I am thankful for each and every memory I have, it doesn’t alleviate the pain that, at times can be overpowering. Although it is nine years since their passing, I will admit I still have not fully mastered the skill of getting through the season without multiple breakdowns, however, I accept them for what they are; not a setback or an obstacle but rather a reminder of the loss of those I loved so much.

Over the last nine years, I learned what helped and what didn’t, many times having to tweak it just to get through the day. While the cycle of grief is universal, the process is not, therefore what works for some may not work for others. For me, filling a “toolbox” and allowing myself to tap into it when needed is one of the greatest gifts I gave myself. Here are some tips to keep you focused on what’s important this holiday season:

  1. PREPARE: As the holiday season approaches, prepare yourself for a variety of emotions. I have a quote I often repeat to myself “feelings are neither right nor wrong, they just are.” If you need to cry, cry. If you want to laugh, laugh; if you feel angry, frustrated or irritable that is ok too, just be careful not to take it out on others, and most importantly remember its ok to not be ok.
  2. TALK: Find someone you feel comfortable talking with and don’t be afraid to call upon him/her if need be. Bottling it up will not make the pain any less but releasing it just may be your saving grace.
  3. TRAVEL: I take my children to visit family in New York for Christmas and I purposely travel on Christmas morning in order to avoid the Christmas morning festivities. By the time we arrive, it is afternoon and the day becomes just a regular day with family.
  4. ACCEPT: People won’t always know what to say or have the right words. Try to understand they don’t mean to be hurtful and accept their efforts to support you.
  5. REMEMBER: If you want to reminisce about your loved one, you have the right to do so. Just remember, not everyone will be on the same grieving schedule and to allow grace in reminiscing.
  6. FIND: Whatever it is, wherever it is, with whomever it is, find what works for you. It will be the best tool in your toolbox in managing the holidays.

Losing a loved one, whether physically or mentally is devastating, however, no one should go through it alone. Although we cannot take away another person’s pain and suffering, if we are willing we all have the opportunity to help someone through the difficult times.

Dawn Powers, Director of Social Services, The Preserve. A.S. Human Services; B.S. Psychology; Certificate in Youth Development. With a passion for advocating and providing care for those in need, Dawn is honored to serve the residents of The Preserve and looks forward to working with them.