It's a disappointing truth: Holiday cheer can be difficult to come by if
you're facing emotional pain caused by a loss. But experts urge us to muster
our inner strength -- to find bits of holiday joy amid the grief.
Loss of a loved one, loss of a job, a divorce, illness -- all these bring
grief to our lives, says Lisa Lewis, PhD, director of psychology at The
Menninger Clinic in Houston. "There's loss when a child leaves home for
college, or when a child gets married. These are normal transitions, but they
do create a sense of loss."
Behavioral addictions - to shopping, sex, even e-mail - trigger the same rush of feel-good dopamine to the brain as drugs and alcohol. Since these "fixes" aren't formally recognized by the medical establishment, insurance won't pony up for treatment. But that doesn't mean they can't undo your life.
"Even at the best of times, the holidays are stressful -- but when
there's an additional emotional burden, they're especially difficult," says
Paula K. Rauch, MD, director of the Parenting at a Challenging Time program at
Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.
"When there's a loss or a change in our lives, our traditions must
change -- and that's hard because we will miss our favorite things," notes
Rauch, author of Raising an Emotionally Healthy Child When a Parent Is
Sick. "People do well to anticipate how changes will affect those
traditions. It's important to be open to new traditions. Take the best of the
old, borrow from new people in your life, and create new traditions."
Open Your Heart
Indeed, the traditions are what tug at our hearts. "Holidays symbolize a
time when people come together," explains Susan Apollon, a counselor
licensed as a psychologist in Pennsylvania. "The holidays represent a
myriad of memories accumulated during your lifetime," she tells WebMD.
"If you've had wonderful times, you hope for the same good times, having
all your family together. Even if you haven't had that, you hope for
Though the holidays can be difficult, they can also be a time of healing,
says Apollon, who authored the book, Touched by the Extraordinary.
"Allow little miracles by opening your heart and experiencing connections
with loved ones. You're entitled to find some joy."
Accept the Sadness
"People think they should be happy all the time, but that is an
unrealistic expectation for life," Lewis tells WebMD. "Life is much
more complex than that. If we can welcome the full range of emotional
experience as part of a normal, healthy life, it takes some of the misery out
of normal unhappiness and grief.
"If we allow ourselves to have those emotions, they will actually pass
more quickly than if we push them away," she says.
The feeling of separation is indeed poignant at the holidays, says Apollon.
"It's important to feel safe in facing your sadness, letting yourself cry
when you need to. You have to experience the sadness to get past it," she
Then call a friend and meet for coffee -- or do something equally
comforting, she adds.