How to handle holiday blues

Counselor Holly Bell tells us that is ok to be sad during the holidays, especially if you've lost a loved one. She has great advice and ideas to help you navigate the holiday season.

We are entering the season of joy, family and traditions. Behind the season of celebration, there are people feeling anything but joy. Many adults and children are grieving at this time. Some sources of grief may include:

  • The loss of a loved one. It could be the first holiday season without them
  • Caring for a family member who is ill
  • Suffering the emotional effects of the changing seasons as the days get shorter and the sun disappears

As I have worked with students over the years, some of them experience a great deal of anxiety and sorrow moving into this time of the year. Some would actually rather stay in school than go home for the holidays. It is so painful to hear their suffering and it makes you feel so helpless to make a difference. There are ways to help, but we need to remember that helping doesn’t mean fixing or making the problem go away. Parents want to take this burden away from their kids and hide their grief or minimize it, but the best they can do is grieve together. Parents can be an example that it is OK to be sad. There isn’t just one way to heal. Everyone experiences grief differently. Here are some key points on how to help others and help yourself.

  • Sometimes there isn’t a way to make it better. We need to allow people to go through the grieving process and provide support and a listening ear. The more that people avoid the pain of loss, the longer the pain persists.
  • Let them know you care and are there for them. Don’t say things like, “He/She is in a better place. There’s a reason for everything. I know how you feel. It was his/her time to go.” It's OK if the grieving person says these things, but not those trying to help.
  • Don’t force them to participate. The holidays can be stressful for everyone, but especially for those who are struggling. Give them them the space they need. Be patient and let them take the lead. No pressure. Allow them to do as much or as little as possible. It’s important to give and receive help.
  • Celebrate memories and honor the deceased
    • Share favorite stories, make a “memory box” or “memory stocking” for people to write stories and share
    • Light a candle just for them in your home
    • Look at pictures
    • Cook their favorite food
    • Create new traditions
    • Donate to a charity or give a gift in their name. Volunteering and gratitude are actually wonderful healers. Small gestures can make a big difference
    • Make an ornament or wreath for them
    • Visit their gravesite and decorate it
    • Leave an empty seat for them at the table
  • It’s okay to be happy. Sometimes people grieving the loss of a loved one feel guilty for enjoying life. Feeling joy doesn’t diminish how much the deceased are loved and missed.  
  • For mood that is affected by the weather and lack of daylight there are supplements that can help, exercise, taking advantage of what daylight there is and sometimes anti-depressants are necessary.
  • Need to be aware of signs of depression. If these sign are present, professional help is needed. These would occur daily or almost daily for 2 weeks or more:
    • A depressed mood during most of the day, particularly in the morning
    • Fatigue or loss of energy almost every day
    • Feelings of worthlessness or guilt almost every day
    • Impaired concentration, indecisiveness
    • Insomnia (an inability to sleep) or hypersomnia (excessive sleeping) almost every day
    • Markedly diminished interest or pleasure in almost all activities nearly every day
    • Recurring thoughts of death or suicide (not just fearing death)
    • A sense of restlessness or being slowed down
    • Significant weight loss or weight gain
    • Loss of interest in activities you once enjoyed