When the Holidays are Hard
Dealing with an illness
The holidays can be especially hard for caregivers, as they try to juggle the responsibilities of caring for their loved one with an illness, along with all of the shopping, planning and expectations that often come with the holiday season. However, it is critical that caregivers do not neglect their own health while caring for others.
Many people may be sandwiched between caring for children and caring for their parents, which leaves little time to take care of themselves. It is natural to feel frustrated, exhausted, alone or sad. Caregiver stress — the emotional and physical stress of caregiving — is common. The emotional and physical demands involved with caregiving can strain even the most resilient person. Too much stress, especially over a long time, can harm your health.
The loss of a loved one
The holidays can be full of joy and anticipation, and, in fact, this is often our culture’s expectation. Yet when we’ve lost a loved one, the holidays may instead become a time of sorrow and stress. Feelings of grief can also arise from major life changes like divorce or having children move out and get married. Being aware of the change that grief brings can be a part of our healing process while we are grieving, especially during the holidays.
The holidays may feel different while you are grieving. If you still find joy in the holidays, don’t be ashamed that you found a way to enjoy the season after you’ve lost someone important. It doesn’t mean that your loss is any less real. Keep in mind that everyone grieves differently and that others may not recognize your grief.
Try to understand that a family member may express grief in a way that doesn’t make sense to you. Don’t have expectations of how others should act or how you should feel.
Grief is hard on who we are-physically, emotionally, spiritually and mentally. Caring for ourselves is vital while going through grief, yet often hard to do. Prioritize what you feel you can and want to do during the holidays and identify someone you can talk to about how you are feeling.
Prepare for family interaction by setting limits on your time, commitments and designate when to walk away from a difficult situation. Try to exercise, eat well and get plenty of rest. Do things that bring you joy and laughter, and remember good times with your loved ones.
Try finding tangible ways to remember and include the connection with your loved one during the holidays, such as playing certain music that they loved or lighting a candle in their memory at the holiday gathering.
Depression and when to seek help
The holidays are supposed to be a joyful time of year, so what do you do if you are all out of Christmas cheer?
Everyone experiences feeling sad at some point in their life; however, it’s important to pay attention to how you’re feeling so that you can seek help if your sadness becomes something you’re consistently dealing with. If you continue to feel sad every day for at least two weeks, you may be suffering from depression. Symptoms of depression may include:
- Loss of interest in activities or hobbies that you once enjoyed
- Change in appetite or loss of appetite
- Difficulty concentrating and making decisions
- Fatigue and decreased energy
- Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, and/or helplessness
- Feelings of hopelessness and/or pessimism
- Irritability, restlessness
The most important thing to know is that you are not alone and you do not have to be ashamed of how you feel. Millions of people all over the world deal with depression every day. Depression can be brought on by a traumatic event such as the loss of a loved one or loss of a job that shakes up your routine. There is not always a specific cause of depression, but it may just build overtime.
The holidays may only exacerbate feelings of depression as the cheeriness seems to contradict your feelings of sadness. Do not be afraid to ask for support from family and friends to help you enjoy holiday events.
If you notice that you’ve been persistently sad and/or are suffering from the above symptoms, make an appointment with your primary care physician. He or she can help you understand what you are feeling and what next steps you can take to help you get back to feeling like your normal self. Your doctor may recommend finding a therapist who can help you work through your feelings.
About the Author
Nadeem Akhtar, MD, is a psychiatrist at Cone Health Behavioral Health at MedCenter Kernersville