Inspiring Words

Here I am sharing some thoughts from my experiences in my clinical and forensic practice, as well as through my role as a mother of three children, a wife, a daughter, a sister, and a friend.

Mental Health Goal Setting for 2019

When setting goals for 2019, don’t forget about your emotional and mental health! Make your/your family members’ mental health a priority. Set some concrete goals where your whole family can benefit. Here are six simple ideas:

  1. Less technology and social media…. Studies demonstrate a correlation between depression and the amount of time that teens (and adults!) spend on social media. Keep personal devices out of bedrooms, off the dinner table, and avoid use in the morning before school/work.  Here are some additional suggestions regarding limiting screen time.  http://166.62.43.57/~drpeggyd/six-suggestions-for-limiting-screen-time/
  2. Be still. Sit in a comfy chair and just breathe for five or ten minutes. Clear your head of your thoughts, particularly negative thoughts and to-do lists. Bring your focus back to your breath. This may feel funny at first and take some practice, but stick with it. The benefits are less stress and anxiety, and less emotional reactivity. And when you’ve mastered just breathing and clearing your mind of your thoughts, practice visualizing what you would like for your day, what you would like for your life. Then envision yourself already having it. If you would like some guidance and convincing regarding this powerful exercise for every day living, read “Into the Magic Shop” by James Doty.
  3. Get outside, and better yet, with others! Research demonstrated that walks in nature with others were associated with decreased symptoms of depression and anxiety, and an overall enhanced sense of well-being. Here is a relevant study – http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2014/10/18/ease-stress-and-improve-mental-health-with-group-nature-walks/
  4. Express appreciation every day. This can be formally, through a Gratitude Journal, or simply by telling others that you appreciate them, and what you appreciate about them. One study found that a simple way to improve a relationship was to express appreciation for that person.  Here is an article about expressing appreciation in a relationship http://166.62.43.57/~drpeggyd/one-simple-way-to-improve-a-relationship/. and another article about ways of practicing gratitude http://166.62.43.57/~drpeggyd/one-simple-thing/
  5. More family dinners. Studies demonstrate that children who have regular family dinners have improved mental health and overall well-being (they also have improved grades and make better decisions regarding risky behavior).  Here are some additional suggestions regarding making the most of family dinners.  http://166.62.43.57/~drpeggyd/ten-ideas-to-make-the-most-of-family-dinners/
  6. Don’t be afraid to seek professional support!  A recent study found that one in five children has or has had a debilitating mental health disorder.  But you/your child do not need to have a mental health “problem” to seek support and advice.  Just like we take our children for annual physical check-ups, mental health check-ups and check-ins are helpful as well, and sometimes can make all the difference in the world in a child’s overall sense of well-being.  http://166.62.43.57/~drpeggyd/some-guidance-regarding-when-to-seek-mental-health-services/

The Healing Power of Giving

Here are some of my favorite quotes about the power of giving:

“The law of giving is very simple. If you want joy, give joy. If love is what you seek, offer love. If you crave material affluence, help others become prosperous.” Deepak Chopra

“This is what life is about. It’s a chance to help and give to others.” Al Mitchell

“True happiness comes from the effort of making others happy. Give and share your love every day.” Tinku Razoria

“Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.” Mother Teresa

 

One of the best ways to feel better is to give to others. The benefit is twofold. Someone is benefiting from your kindness, time, and/or generosity, and you are left feeling better. In addition, doing for others helps take the focus off of our own sorrows. I don’t see this as “charity”, but rather an understanding that we all have struggles, and to give when you can to help make someone else’s day a little brighter. Your day will be brighter too.

Psychologists are now saying that “resilience is the new happiness”. And guess what boosts resilience? Giving to others! Studies have found that people who give to others have the highest levels of resilience. The giving need not be fancy nor elaborate, time-consuming nor expensive. Some simple examples are participating in a meal delivery for someone going through a difficult time, offering to drive a child for a busy mother who is juggling schedules, or donating to the local food pantry. The possibilities are endless!

 

Here are some benefits of giving and why it is helpful for our mental health

  1. Giving serves as a distraction from our own problems

Giving to others is a distraction from our own worries and concerns. When we focus on the needs of other people and connect with them, we are for that time distracted from the difficulties of our own lives. This is not to say that we should ignore our own problems. In fact, that is definitely something to avoid. Many times when people are focused on giving to others, they do not pay sufficient attention to their own problems. So make sure that you always come back to dealing with your own problems after helping someone else.

Helping other people makes us realize that we are not alone. We are not alone in the struggles of life. Everyone has something different that they are dealing with, but everyone is dealing with something. Often when we are giving to others, we are giving to someone we perceive as being in a more difficult situation than ourselves. That is all about perception. But that perception may help you feel better about your own difficult situation.

 

2. Giving to others helps to build social connections

When we give to others, we are connecting with other human beings. As human beings, we are wired to be social. These social connections help to fulfill a basic human need and boost our mood. We can also form social connections by being with other people we are giving with, further fostering connections. All of these connections help to build our social support network, and this network in turn helps with resilience. And the more resilient we are, the happier lives we live. Life is filled with problems, and we are able to bounce back and feel better when we are resilient.

A study at National Institutes of Health by Jorge Moll in 2006 found that helping others activates the region in the brain that is responsible for pleasure, trust, and social connection, leading to what may be referred to as the “helper’s high”.

 

3. Helping others reduces stress

Helping others also benefits with stress reduction, which in turn boosts physical health. In their study published in the International Journal of Psychophysiology, Rachel Piferi and Kathleen Lawler found that people who gave to others had lower blood pressure, which is associated with lower stress levels.

 

4. Helping others fosters gratitude

One of the wonderful benefits of giving to others is that it helps foster gratitude. It helps us to be more grateful for what we have and everything that is going well in our lives. People who regularly give to others have higher levels of perceived happiness. Happiness expert Barbara Frederickson has discovered this finding in her research.

 

There are many different ways of giving

  1. Give time

Organize a food or clothing collection. Be a Big Brother or Big Sister. Mentor a young professional. Visit a senior center or Veteran’s Hospital. Volunteer as a Scout Leader or through a Parent Teacher Association. Serve on a township committee of interest to you.

One study found that people who volunteered more than once monthly, but less than once weekly, had were 12% more likely to report happiness than people who had not volunteered.

2. Give Resources

This does not need to be materialistic. If you have an area of knowledge or expertise, this can be shared with others. Share your knowledge or talent. Run a workshop at a local library. If you are an attorney, offer your knowledge to a domestic violence shelter or other agency. If you are a mental health professional, offer a free workshop in your community. If you are a landscaper, mow the lawn of someone who is ill or grieving. Give blood during a blood drive.

3. Give love and attention.

Visit the elderly in nursing homes. Visit a children’s hospital and read to children or play games. Sing at a Veteran’s hospital.

4. Give money or goods

Donate to a Go Fund Me page to a person needing help. Donate to the Red Cross after natural disaster.

Elizabeth Dunn and Lara Aknin (2008) found that people who spent more money on others rather than themselves had higher levels of happiness.

 

So how can you put this into meaningful action?

  1. Think about what brings you joy? What are you good at? How can you give to others while sharing your joy, knowledge or talent?
  2. Remember that it does not need to be something big or take huge amounts of time. Sometimes these thoughts are what prevent people from taking the first step. So keep it simple. You can always build upon it.
  3. Remember that there are so many different ways to give. Which feels best for you? You may not have much money to spare, you can give your time. Or maybe you’re feeling overwhelmed with the demands of your daily life, but you have money, you can provide a financial donation.
  4. Be mindful of not using giving to others as a distraction from dealing with your own problems. You can take a break from them, but don’t neglect them.
  5. Your way of giving is unique to you. You can give of your time, resources, knowledge, talent, attention, love, money, or goods. Do not compare yourself to how others are giving. Do what feels good for you.

In Gratitude,
Peggy

Coping With Depression

So many people are struggling with sad/depressed mood, feelings of hopeless, lack of motivation, feelings of unworthiness, and loneliness. In my private practice, I have had the privilege of helping people in a private, comfortable space. I wanted to share some suggestions from research and practice in psychology related to coping skills for depression.  While these suggestions do not cure depression, research has demonstrated that they are effective in elevating mood.

Any time you need a mood boost, try one of these things:

  1. Spend a time in gratitude and think about one person, object, relationship, or experience for which you are grateful. Research demonstrates that practicing gratitude not only helps elevate mood in the moment by focusing on what is GOOD and what is going RIGHT, but when practiced regularly, it has long-term positive effects and decreases symptoms of depression and anxiety. One study found that after just 21 days, people who were diagnosed with clinical depression reported significant elevations in their mood when using a gratitude journal. But two things need to happen. First, what you write down needs to be specific. In other words, instead of writing, “I am grateful for my friend”, write, “I am grateful for my friend because she is a wonderful listener. Second, write something different every day. This helps you retrain your brain by scanning the environment to see the good. This is the purpose of my Gratitude Bracelet. When you purchase that bracelet, it comes with a free 21 day Gratitude Journal with writing prompts.
  2. Think about one of your favorite experiences, remembering it in as much detail as possible, drawing upon all of your senses. Did you know that the brain cannot distinguish the difference between living an event and remembering an event??? How cool is that? That is why this is so powerful. The same neurotransmitters fire in your brain, resulting in elevated mood.
  3. Think about one person you can reach out to today to say thank you, give a compliment, or say, “I am thinking about you.” Make a phone call, send a text, write and email, or mail a card or letter. This is important because we are social beings, and social connectedness helps to foster happiness and fulfillment in life.
  4. Exercise. This is probably the most effective way of elevating mood. There are countless studies demonstrating the proven mental health benefits of exercise. Find something you enjoy doing, and make the time in your day to do it. The simplest is walking. For an instant mood boost, go for a walk in nature, and better yet, with a friend. Studies demonstrate that walking in nature with others is associated with less perceived stress and improved overall emotional well-being. What do you like to do? Walk, run, bike, hike, stretch, swim, yoga, spinning, dance? Find a group – Facebook, Meet Up, etc. Put it on your calendar and keep it like it is an appointment.
  5. Do not compare yourself to others. Comparing yourself to others is the quickest way to zap your happiness. You may be so happy with your belongings, your achievements, your successes, and as soon as you compare yourself to someone you perceive as having/being/doing more, your joy is zapped. In an instant. Just like that. Gone. Remember the saying, “Comparison is the thief of joy”. It is SO true. Instead of comparing yourself to others, focus on yourself and your own goals. Remember that if you have a tendency to compare yourself to others, social media exacerbates this. Pay attention to how you feel after being on social media. Most people feel better when they limit their usage.
  6. Hope. When all else fails, hope. And there will be days when hope is all you have left. Hope for better days ahead, hope for less emotional or physical pain, hope after lost love. The healing power of hope cannot be underestimated. I love the saying, “When the world says, ‘Give up’, Hope whispers, ‘Try one more time.’”

I have designed a special bracelet for coping with depression. It comes in an organza pouch, with the first three of these suggestions listed on the inspirational/instructional enclosed card.

http://peggysmidnightcreations.com/product/healing-depression-bracelet/

If you or anyone you know is in need of mental health support, here are some resources:

https://www.everydayhealth.com/depression/guide/resources/

https://www.apa.org/topics/depression/index.aspx

https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/depression/index.shtml

https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/

Please feel free to share with anyone you know who could use this information.

Mental health matters.

Peggy

Resilience Is The New Happiness

I love it when my inbox is filled with interesting psychological research.  It fuels my quest for knowledge in how I can best help my therapy clients, and it also provides me with unique and valuable information for my mental health bracelet designs.

I read this great article about how “resilience in the new happiness”.  The concept is that in order for us to be happy, we first must be strong.  We need to be able to pick ourselves up when we fall, and detach ourselves from sadness when we fail.  And the best part – resilience is a skill.  It is not some quality that is reserved for a select few.  Everyone can build up resilience skills, like a muscle, at any age. And it is well worth putting in the effort. Simply put, resilience can help us heal ourselves.

Here are some areas that you can work on in order to build up your resilience.  Let each of the blue beads be a reminder to focus on these daily.

  1. Boundaries.  Be mindful of how much you allow problems in one area of your life to affect other areas of your life.  Learn to set boundaries and avoid “spillover”.
  2. Self-Talk.  Pay attention to what thoughts are running through your head.  How to you talk to yourself?  When you catch yourself having negative thoughts, work on turning them into positive thoughts.  Use meditation or other relaxation strategies to help quiet the “chatter”, “static”, or “noise” going on in your head. If you’d like some help with this, here is an article I wrote on helping you identify what “cognitive distortion” you are using, and then applying “the fix”. http://166.62.43.57/~drpeggyd/12-major-types-of-cognitive-distortions-that-can-affect-mood-and-behavior/
  3. Locus of control.  Remember that you are in control of your own thoughts and behavior.  The more you believe that you can effect change, the more you will be engaged in purposeful behavior to bounce back and improve a negative situation.
  4. Compassion and empathy.  We feel good when we help others, and building connections helps us build our own social networks.  A strong social support network is important to the resilient person, and the resilient person knows how to draw upon that support when needed.
  5. Stress Management.  Engage in whatever activity helps you relax and de-stress.  Yoga, meditation, hiking, deep breathing, listening to music, running, or spending time with your partner, family, pet, and/or friends.
  6. Gratitude.  Practicing gratitude on a daily basis will help you build resilience.  You then will not get caught up in the things that are going wrong, and rather be better able to celebrate the things that are going well. If you would like to learn some creative and fun ways to incorporate gratitude into your life, feel free to come to one of my upcoming workshops on fostering gratitude. http://166.62.43.57/~drpeggyd/announcements/

Here is the link for the Resilience is the New Happiness Bracelet

http://peggysmidnightcreations.com/product/resilience-is-the-new-happiness-bracelet/

Here is a link to browse other mental health bracelets

http://peggysmidnightcreations.com/line/mental-health/

And here is a link to browse other bracelets for inspiration, encouragement, and support

http://peggysmidnightcreations.com/line/inspiration/

Speaking Engagements Fall 2018

WORKSHOPS/PRESENTATIONS

Please join me at one of these upcoming “feel good” workshops in northern New Jersey! Contact me if you would like me to bring a workshop to your community group, business group, group of friends, etc.

September 24th 7PM  “Fostering Gratitude“, Chester Public Library, 250 West Main Street, Chester, NJ 07930; register at http://host6.evanced.info/chester/evanced/eventcalendar.asp

September 26th noon “Finding Joy and Cultivating Happiness in Every Day Living,” The Coffee Potter, Schooley’s Mountain Road, Long Valley

October 9th “Fostering Gratitude“, Sisters in Entrepreneurship (members only presentation)

October 17th noon “Resilience is the New Happiness: Methods of Building Resilience Based on Research in Psychology,” The Coffee Potter, Schooley’s Mountain Road, Long Valley

November 1st 9:30AM “Fostering Gratitude“, Believe, Inspire, Grow, Bernardsville pod, California Closets, 9 Olcott Square, Bernardsville, NJ 07924

November 7th noon “Fostering Gratitude,” The Coffee Potter, Schooley’s Mountain Road, Long Valley

November 10th 1PM “Fostering Gratitude,” Journey’s Day Spa, 1930 Rt. 940, Pocono Pines, PA 18350

November 12 7PM “Fostering Gratitude“, Washington Township Public Library, 37 East Springtown Road, Long Valley, NJ 07853; register at http://wtpl.evanced.info/signup/Calendar (sign up not available yet)

November 14 9:30AM “Harnessing the Power of The Law of Attraction in Your Personal and Professional Lives”, Believe, Inspire, Grow, South Orange/Maplewood Pod, Work and Play, 19 Prospect Street, South Orange, NJ 07079

November 28 10:30AM “Harnessing the Power of The Law of Attraction in Your Personal and Professional Lives”, Believe, Inspire, Grow, Morristown Pod, Avalon Wellness Center, 25 Lindsey Drive, Morristown, NJ 07960

December 6th noon “Mindfulness Workshop: Beyond Meditation – Creative Exercises for You and Your Family,” The Coffee Potter, Schooley’s Mountain Road, Long Valley

December 13 10AM “Harnessing the Power of The Law of Attraction in Your Personal and Professional Lives“, Believe, Inspire, Grow, Basking Ridge Pod, St. Mark’s Church, 140 South Finley Avenue, Basking Ridge, NJ 07920

http://166.62.43.57/~drpeggyd

http://peggysmidnightcreations.com

First meeting of Believe, Inspire, Grow is free. Contact me if you would like to be my guest! https://www.believeinspiregrow.com/

 

 

Ten Practical Suggestions for Parents of Kindergarteners or Children Who Are Experiencing Some Anxiety Returning to School

Starting school at summer’s end can be both exciting, and a bit scary, particularly for those starting Kindergarten. Children are leaving behind comfort and familiarity of home, and entering new territory. While they may be developmentally ready and prepared with all necessary school supplies, it is not uncommon for children to experience uncertainty and anxiety. Here are some tips for parents in assisting their children with the transition.

  1. Likely, some of the anxiety that your child is experiencing is related to being separated from YOU. Home is comfortable. Home is familiar. Home is loving. It is natural for children, including older children, to experience some anxiety upon separation, especially after spending so much time with family over the summer. You can help her with this concern by acknowledging it and not minimizing it. Assure her that you will see her at the end of the school day or when you get home, and remind her of what great things are in store once she gets home. Often, having something to look forward to can help a child get through the day. Some other ideas for helping with the separation include drawing a heart on her palm in marker, so that she can look at the heart and feel your love when she is missing you. You can also read “The Kissing Hand” and kiss each other’s palms. Then when she is missing you during the day, she can place her palm to her cheek and feel your love. Another idea is to have matching parent-child bracelets. The idea is that she knows that you will be wearing your bracelet and thinking about her, and she will be wearing her bracelet and feel close to you, fostering a sense of connection despite the separation, helping her to get through her day. Here is a link to purchase a set: http://peggysmidnightcreations.com/product/when-we-cannot-be-together-bracelet/
  2. Whether your child is entering Kindergarten for the first time, or returning to elementary school, it is likely that some of your child’s worries are social worries. Questions may be running through your child’s mind, such as “Who am I going to eat lunch with?” “Will I see any of my old friends?” “Will the other kids like me?” “What if I have nothing to say?” Help your child to identify and verbalize these concerns. Your child may also be comforted in knowing that other children have these same concerns. Also, if your child is feeling shy and/or does not feel that she has something to contribute to a conversation, remind her that a simple smile and eye contact go a long way. You could also encourage her to ask a question to demonstrate interest. Many schools have “walk-throughs”, “meet the teacher day”, or ice cream socials before the first day of school. Participating in these can also help alleviate your child’s anxiety.
  3. Help your child to anticipate changes. School transitions are filled with changes. Your child will likely experiences changes such as different friends, increased responsibilities, and new interests. While this is positive and part of growth, your child may feel some uneasiness, especially if many changes are happening all at once. Your child is more likely to be accepting of these changes if he has an understanding that these changes are natural and healthy, even if they feel uncomfortable at times. Keep the lines of communication open, and check in with him about these issues.
  4. Resist the temptation to solve your child’s problems. It is natural to want to help your child out when he encounters problems at school, whether they be social or academic. It may seem like it is not a big deal to solve a small problem your child is having, but it is these very problems that are small that are the practice for the bigger problems. Solving small problems for your child deprives him of the opportunity to learn from mistakes, and to gain confidence from success. Instead of stepping in and solving the problem for your child, be a sounding board for him. Talk about possible solutions and outcomes, and then encourage him to take the necessary steps. (Of course step in if a problem becomes too big for him to handle on his own).
  5. Identify a trusted adult in the school setting. This could be a special teacher, guidance counselor, or administrator. Help your child to identify who this person is, and how to access this person during the school day.
  6. Get a good night’s sleep. Sleep is essential to proper functioning, including academic, emotional, and social functioning. Limit screen time before bed, and keep electronics out of your child’s bedroom. Studies show that when devices are left in bedrooms, children check them in the middle of the night if they wake up, and this affects both quality and quantity of sleep. Most children need more sleep than they are getting.
  7. Show confidence. Remember the quote by Peggy O’Mara – “The way we talk to our children becomes their inner voice.” Your child is more likely to believe in herself when you show that you believe in her, and when you use words that support that. Here is a link to some encouraging words to use with children. http://166.62.43.57/~drpeggyd/encouraging-words-to-use-with-children/
  8. Prepare, prepare, prepare. Help your child anticipate what is needed for the next day, and complete as much as possible in the evening for a smoother morning. Encourage your child to pick out her outfit the night before, make sure she knows where her shoes are, and have lunch ready. Get up earlier than you think is necessary. Your child will have a much smoother start of the school day when the morning is not rushed and chaotic.
  9. Positive affirmations. Studies demonstrate that positive affirmations help improve mood, increase confidence, and achieve goals. Keep affirmations written down on pieces of paper in your child’s bedroom. Keep affirmations in the present tense, not something that your child wants to achieve in the future. For example, instead of “I will make friends”, the affirmation should be “I make friends easily.” Positive affirmations are so important because they help children maintain positive thoughts and create a positive belief system, which serves as the foundation for their lives (adults too)! Here is a link to positive affirmations for teens http://7mindsets.com/affirmations-for-teens/ and one for younger children http://www.evelynlim.com/101-affirmations-for-children/
  10. Love. Show love. Talk love. In any way you can, show love for your child. Surprise your child with a special note. Sneak a love note in your child’s lunch or school folder. Or leave it on your child’s pillow. Yep, even for your teenager. Especially your teenager. Here is a link to some simple things to do today and every day to show love for your child. http://166.62.43.57/~drpeggyd/five-simple-things-to-do-today-and-every-day-to-show-love-for-your-children/

Forgiveness

Forgiveness is difficult. Why is so hard to forgive? Part of the reason is that it is hard to forget. Research demonstrates that we tend to remember events and experiences to which we have a strong emotional reaction, whether it be positive or negative. Simply put, we remember situations that are emotionally impactful, where our emotions are aroused.

BUT, we do have the power to forgive. Forgiveness is a choice. It takes energy, effort, and time, but it is possible. In fact, in many situations, forgiveness is the very thing that heals us from pain and helps us move on. We are not able to control others’ behavior, but we can control our own actions and reactions.

The first step is understanding and believing that forgiveness is even possible. The next step involves an intention to forgive. Here are some points to consider:

  1. Consider your own anger. It is difficult to make progress toward forgiveness if your level of anger is high. Take steps to address your anger. This could involve deep breathing, meditation, and other relaxations exercises, talking to a trusted friend, writing your feelings, or consulting a professional.
  2. Consider the other person’s situation. Cultivate empathy. While there may be no excuse for the other person’s behavior, understanding the other person’s situation may help in achieving your goal of forgiveness. As the saying goes, hurt (emotionally wounded) people hurt people. How has that person been hurt? Not necessarily by you, but how has that person been hurt?
  3. Keep in mind that it is truly in your best interest to forgive. So if you are finding it hard to forgive for the other person’s benefit, remember that it is truly for YOUR benefit. Holding on to anger and resentment takes a toll on your psychological and physical well-being.
  4. Forgiveness does not mean accepting or condoning the behavior that hurt you. It is simply making a decision to not let it continue to affect you.
  5. Put your mental and emotional energy toward reaching your goals in positive ways. Stop re-playing the hurt in your mind and replace it with positive ways of coping with the situation to achieve your desired outcome.
  6. Part of achieving your positive outcome is focusing on the positive around you. Make a conscious effort to look for compassion, kindness, love, and beauty in other people and your environment.
  7. Pay attention to your benefits of forgiveness. Notice and reductions in anger, stress, and anxiety. Celebrate the increases in positive mood as well as an increase in life satisfaction and fulfillment.

Now go back and take a look at all these steps and consider forgiving yourself. What is it about yourself from your past that you are having trouble letting go of, that steals your joy? It is time to give yourself the gift of forgiveness.

For a wearable reminder and support: The Forgiveness Bracelet http://peggysmidnightcreations.com/product/the-forgiveness-bracelet/

 

 

Women’s Wellness Retreat 1/27/18

During this six hour relaxing retreat, you will rotate through three different workshops focusing on mind, body, and spirit wellness, presented by three experts in their fields, Denise Melito, Kathryn Higgins, and Peggy DeLong. There will be a social break for a nutritious lunch, provided by Ethos Health. There will also be vendors with products and/or services related to wellness. Please join us for this very special event!

Register at http://166.62.43.57/~drpeggyd/services/community-services/

Coping With Loss During the Holidays

The death of a loved one can be the most traumatic and emotionally painful experience of your life. Coping during the holidays is a particularly difficult time for dealing with loss. The following suggestions are made to hopefully alleviate some of that pain, to turn a painful experience into a healing experience, and to make the experience meaningful.

  • Allow yourself to be fully present with your emotions and sensations. Even though grief can feel terrible and overwhelming, it is a normal reaction to death, and a healthy part of the healing process. Allow the tears to flow when you feel like crying. During grief, we sometimes experience our loved one through our senses. This can be in the form of hearing our loved ones’ voice, or smelling our loved ones’ scent. Allow yourself to take it all in and be fully present in those moments. It may be helpful to be keep in mind that that pain will be there, and to simply allow yourself the time and space to experience it.
  • Express your feelings. This can be done by journaling your thoughts and feelings about your loved one. Reaching out to a trusted friend and connecting on an emotional level may also be very helpful. Talking to another person who is also grieving can help in share in the experience and help you to feel less alone. Seek professional help from a mental health professional. This can be a valuable opportunity to process your thoughts and feelings in an emotionally safe environment.
  • Keep in mind that it is natural to experience an increase in grief and emotional pain during the holidays and during anniversaries. You may have been feeling better and making progress in your grief path, only to experience a heightened sense of loss during the holidays. Do not let this alarm you and make you feel that you are regressing, that something is “wrong” with you, or that you are not grieving “properly”. This is a natural reaction and part of the grief process.
  • Take time out to nourish your soul. Do whatever brings you a sense of peace and you have found in the past to enhance your mental health. This could be taking time out to exercise, enjoy a craft, read, or meditate. The holiday season can get so busy that we find we do not have time to do what nourishes our souls when we need it the most.
  • Take on a favorite characteristic or action of your loved one. Did your loved one tell jokes or stories during gatherings? Cook or bake? Lead a prayer or recite a poem? You may find comfort in carrying on a favorite aspect of your loved one. If you decide to do so, you may also wish to practice this before the actual event.
  • Although this may be a time when you expect others to support and comfort you, you may find yourself in a position of needing to forgive others. An example may be to forgive the friend you see at a holiday party who has not called since your loved one’s death. Death brings up our strongest vulnerabilities and fears, and not everyone will be capable of dealing with your loss and their own feelings about it. Forgive, try not to take it personally, and spend time with someone who does provide comfort.
  • Allow yourself to experience joy. Remembering your loved one does not mean sacrificing joy when it comes naturally. Allow yourself to laugh. It is not a betrayal to your loved one to experience happiness and joy.

 

  • Planning is important:
    • Consider how you plan to obtain additional emotional support. If being alone is too painful, invite someone over, or accept an invitation that you might not normally accept.
    • Sometimes people need to be told that it is okay to mention your loved one’s name, or that you especially want them to mention your loved one’s name. Do not be afraid to let others know what you specifically want and need. People mean well, but sometimes need to be told how to respond to you and the loss. Out of fear of saying the “wrong” thing, people sometimes say nothing of your loss, and this can be painful. Let others know and give “permission” if you would like your loved one to be freely mentioned and remembered.
    • Consider how you plan to handle rituals. If you plan to keep a ritual, decide how your loved one’s role will be handled. The role may be shared among family and friends, assigned to a different person, or modified in some meaningful way.
    • Consider making new rituals. The purpose is to create the opportunity for meaningful remembering of the loved one, and to express and experience thoughts and feelings. The new ritual can also be an action, such as planting a tree, or a ceremony, or both. This can be done privately or with family and friends.
    • You may want to create a symbolic remembrance of your loved one. This can be your loved one’s favorite holiday decoration placed in a special location, a new holiday decoration to represent your loved one, an object that belonged to your loved one, favorite music playing, or a burning candle.
    • Consider whether there will be an empty chair. If your family ritual or gathering involved your loved one being seated at a particular chair around the table, you may wish to discuss with the others who will be present what to do with the empty chair. Seeing the empty chair can be a painful physical reminder of our loved one’s absence, and preparing for this can make the experience less painful.
    • Anticipate your limits and do not be afraid to let others know what they are. This may mean telling a host/hostess that you are not making your usual dish or dessert this year. This could also mean informing the host/hostess that you may need to make an early exit, that this exit could be sudden, and that it may need to be done without making your usual round of good-byes.

Remember that your experiences, emotions, and reactions are flowing and changing, just as life is flowing and changing. What might feel right to do this year may be different next year. You can make a mental note of what felt good and what did not feel good based on your individual needs, and this is likely to change year to year. Also keep in mind that it is impossible to do all of these suggestions. Pick and choose what resonates with you, as the grieving process is intensely personal. The pain you experience is in proportion to the love between you and your loved one. The difference is that the pain will diminish over time, yet the love will forever endure.