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The Pennsylvania Psychological Association Offers Tips to Get Through the Holiday Season

Losing a loved one is hard enough. But getting through the holiday season can be tough, particularly if it's the first without that special person in your life. With everyone around you chatting about cooking, shopping and other holiday preparations, your loneliness and despair only seem to deepen.

"The first holiday without a loved one is the most difficult," says Dr. Pauline Wallin, a licensed psychologist in Camp Hill, PA. "All the special memories of past celebrations are still fresh in your mind, which intensifies your feeling of loss. It does tend to get a little easier each year, although the degree of improvement varies from person to person."

The Pennsylvania Psychological Association offers the following tips for those who are grieving through the holidays:

  • Even during times of intense grief, there are spaces of distraction and relief. Use such moments to reflect on what you are grateful for. For example, although your loved one may be gone, you are grateful to have spent the time you had together.
  • Try not to isolate yourself. Accept invitations, but keep the visits to an hour or less. Make an effort to talk to someone, at least on the phone, every day.
  • Take time to commemorate your loved one who died. Start some special rituals or traditions to remember him or her. Invite everyone in the family to participate.
  • Volunteer at a local charity. Helping people in need is one of the best antidotes to grief, as it not only distracts you, but also helps you feel a sense of purpose and connection with others.
  • Take a break from commercial TV and radio, which are filled with ads and stories depicting holiday scenarios that might make you sad. Instead, catch up on your reading, listen to your favorite music, or watch movies without commercials.
  • Well-meaning friends may give you advice about how to cope. Thank them politely, but don't feel obliged to follow their advice. No one knows as well as you do, what will work for you.
  • What if you just can't bear the thought of participating in holiday activities? It's okay to entirely skip them this year. Things will not change drastically if you sit this one out.

Dr. Wallin notes, "One good piece of news here is that holiday stress is time-limited. Keeping in mind that January is just around the corner makes it a little easier to get through one day at a time."

There is a difference between normal grief and serious depression. If, for several weeks you can't stop crying, have lost all interest in people and activities, or have difficulty managing your everyday tasks, you may need professional help. It is recommended that you talk to a psychologist who can help you develop coping strategies. Use our Psychologist Locator at http://www.papsy.org to find a psychologist near you.

To learn more about managing stress and emotional well-being, visit the Pennsylvania Psychological Association's website, www.papsy.org, or the American Psychological Association's Consumer Help Center at www.APAhelpcenter.org.

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