How To Cope With Grief During the Holidays

The swell of grief around the holidays is a common reason clients enter our therapy office this time of year. People often seek help for the immense sorrow that starts surfacing right around Thanksgiving.

When you’re grieving, there may be times when you want to participate in the excitement and joy but simultaneously don’t want to participate at all or feel guilty for celebrating.

Grief is complicated and unique for everyone. While accepting loss becomes easier over time, it is often something we carry with us forever.

If you’re wondering how to get through the holidays this year without your loved one, these strategies can help:

1. Trust That Grief Is Part of Healing

Time doesn’t heal the pain associated with a loss; it’s what you do with that time that matters. Grief is the process by which you heal. Experiencing the pain—rather than constantly trying to escape it—can actually help you feel better in the long-term.

So while it may be tempting to pretend the holidays don’t exist—or to numb the pain with alcohol—temporarily avoiding the pain only prolongs the anguish. Eventually, the holidays will get easier, but only if you allow yourself to experience the grief of going through them without your loved one.

2. Set Healthy Boundaries

You certainly don’t have to force yourself to face every holiday event or celebratory tradition, however. If attending a tree lighting ceremony or participating in the office gift swap is likely to bring about too many painful memories this year, be willing to say no. Other people may try to convince you to participate, but you certainly don’t have to try to please everyone.

3. Focus on What You Can Control

There are a lot of things you can’t control about the holidays. You may be subjected to Christmas music in the waiting room of your doctor’s office or you may overhear your co-workers constantly talking about their holiday plans. While you can’t prevent those things from happening, there are some things you can control.

Think about what you can do to lessen the heartache when you can. It’s OK to limit your decorations or shop for presents online only. Pick a few things you can do to assert some control over the holiday cheer, and keep in mind that life goes on for other people and it’s OK that they’re happy to celebrate this year.

4. Plan Ahead

Often, the anticipation over how hard something is going to be is worse than the actual event. So while Thanksgiving dinner may only last two hours, you could easily spend three weeks dreading it. Create a simple plan for how you’ll get through the holidays to avoid extending your anguish.

Often, it’s helpful to create an escape plan. Drive yourself to holiday functions or ride with a trusted friend who will take you home whenever you want. Just knowing you can easily leave at any time can help you enjoy the activity much more than you would if you felt stuck.

5. Allow Yourself to Feel a Range of Emotions

The holidays can bring about a wide range of emotions. You might feel joy, guilt, and sadness all within a few minutes. Allow yourself to feel those emotions without judging yourself or thinking you should be happy or you shouldn’t be laughing.

6. Find a Way to Honor Your Memories

Create a special way to memorialize the person you’ve lost. Whether you decide to light a candle every night or eat your loved one’s favorite food, honoring your loved one can serve as a tangible reminder that although your loved one is gone, the love never dies.

7. Create New Traditions

Don’t be afraid to create new traditions this year too. It’s OK to get creative and do something a little out of the ordinary. You can also alter old traditions and make them fit better with the new phase in your life.

8. Do Something Kind for Others

Even when you’re in the midst of grief, you still have something to offer the world. Performing a few acts of kindness can be really good for a grieving person’s spirit. Donate gifts to families in need, serve meals at a soup kitchen, or volunteer to help people at a nursing home make holiday crafts if you’re up for it.

9. Ask for Help

Don’t be afraid to ask for help when you’re struggling with the holidays. Reminding loved ones that you’re having a rough time may be enough, but you also may want to reach out for more support. Look for support groups or contact a professional counselor to help you deal with your grief in a healthy manner.

 

Want to learn about coping with grief during the holidays?  Contact us to schedule a FREE initial consultation with one of our experts, info@hillarycouneling.com.

Intuitive Eating Tricks for Halloween Treats

“Halloween” and “candy” are almost synonymous, and this can be a confusing time for us to know how to handle the sugar overload that’s heading towards us like a high-speed freight train, especially for those struggling with and eating disorder and working in recovery.

Most individuals spend their time thinking about costumes, decorations and haunted houses weeks before the big day but individuals who are recovering from an eating disorder are often inundated with thoughts of body image and weight disturbances when shopping for a Halloween costume and walking the candy aisles.

Shopping for a Halloween costume, navigating parties, and being faced with Halloween candy, treats and drinks are just a few of the many ways that Halloween can trigger your eating disorder in unexpected ways. Being mindful of these potential triggers and arming yourself with coping tools to support your recovery is vital. Whether you are trick-or-treating, attending a Halloween costume party or passing out candy with your friends, these triggers may creep up on you before you know it.

Halloween Treats and Binge Eating

Halloween in recovery can mean binge eating can be more likely during times of stress and increased anxiety. During this particular holiday, stress and anxiety may be caused by feeling pressure over Halloween to dress up, attend a Halloween party or potluck, pass out candy and purchase candy. From chocolate bars and candy corns to lollipops and gummy bears.  Halloween can lead to candy overload, which can lead to intense urges or action to binge. Depending on your eating disorder, you might have kept yourself from indulging in Halloween candy in the past; you might have binged on it after everyone had gone to sleep, or some combination therein. If you are still in recovery for your eating disorder it is recommended that you have a recovery action plan to help with the triggers.

Understanding your reasons for binge eating, along with learning how to deal with stress and anxiety through other coping strategies are beneficial to your health and recovery. Here are some tips for your recovery action plan to help you avoid binge eating on Halloween this year.

1. Practice Mindful Eating. This starts with allowing yourself to use all of your senses in choosing to eat foods that satisfy you while nourishing your body at the same time. You obtain the opportunity to acknowledge your genuine responses to food, such as your true likes and dislikes, without any judgement. Eat with awareness of your senses.

2.Remember to have regular meals/snack throughout the day. Try eating three regular meals and two snacks to prevent cravings that can lead to overeating. Have a game plan for the potluck. Meaning look at all the foods before you take a plate. Figure out which foods seems the most appetizing to you and which foods you know you are hungry for. Plate your food, allowing yourself to enjoy what you are eating. Give yourself permission to stop eating when you feel satisfied.

3. Feel empowered to use your voice and seek support. Identify who you support system is going be for the Halloween festivities. Strategize with your support system on what type of support you may need and what that will look like.

4. Practice Self-Compassion. When you start experiencing feelings of guilt and shame, practice self-compassion. Self-compassion involves acting the same way towards yourself when you are having a difficult time, fail, or notice something you don’t like about yourself. Instead of just ignoring your pain with a “stiff upper lip” mentality, you stop to tell yourself “this is really difficult right now,” how can I comfort and care for myself in this moment? ~Kristin Neff

Halloween costumes and body positivity

There are many ways that Halloween in recovery can be challenging. Clothing shopping can be triggering for individuals who are in eating disorder recovery, especially costume shopping. Costumes tend to be on the skimpier side and our society tends to praise women who show more skin and wear less clothing on Halloween. Regardless of where you are in your eating disorder recovery, it is important to feel comfortable in any costume you wear. Whether it is a homemade costume or a store-bought costume, you should feel comfortable and exuberate self-confidence in your costume.

If you feel that a costume will trigger you to have negative thoughts then here are some ideas to try instead of dressing up; 1.  to try a different costume that you feel comfortable in 2. buy a Halloween t-shirt instead of dressing up 3. wear Halloween colors in clothes that make you feel good.

Regardless of where your Halloween takes you, the most important part is practicing self-care. This is at the root of most recovery-minded decisions. Self-care means spending time with people who support your recovery, and giving yourself permission to enjoy that Snickers!

If you feel like you would benefit from support when it comes to your relationship with food, reach out to us at info@hillarycounseling.com to schedule a FREE initial consult with one of our eating disorder therapists.

 

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5 Tools To Reset Grief’s Anger

Grief and anger are often aligned. Anger is one phase within the theme of grief that is alarmingly unpredictable, erratic, and, when unexpressed, can eat up the interior of the gut.

The Grief Experience

Grief, a response to a loss of someone or something, creates an untenable yearning for what you’ve lost. Both anger and grief are unchosen experiences, sneaking up on you, often without warning, only creating responses leading to internal and external emotional combustibility.

Avoid Crushing Your Comfortable Ordinary

Think about this combustibility like a big bang that goes off and affects your mind, body, and psyche. Acting in consort, these two aspects do a great job at crushing any sense of normalcy. Or what I like to refer to as your comfortable “ordinary.” Together, they have the ability to overwhelm the senses, all the while creating emotional responses that are often unrecognizable. You may hear yourself saying “Did I just say or do that?” and, yet, all of it is part of life, part of loving, part of being.

As hard as you try, ignoring what comes up only works for a short time before it starts to come out sideways. What I mean by that is that your body or mind can feel out of it, as they hold the unspoken and hidden angers and grief.

How to Tame the Tiger of Anger and Grief

Acknowledge their presence. When you do that simple step, you create the necessary healing moves needed to feel better. It is getting to yes—I see you, I know you are there, and I can’t sleep you away, eat you away, or drink you away.

I know I can’t pretend anymore. It’s taking me away from me and the life I want to live.

Anger

Here are two questions to begin your intimate adventure into the relationship between anger and grief:

Why is anger one of the anchors in the phases of grief?
Why is it hard to temper its potency?
Like food, anger is an essential element to the core of our being. It’s primal. It’s an aspect of survival. In small doses, or when it shows up to support one’s primal survival mode, anger pushes at that which is unwanted or threatening to our sense of self. Grief is often an immobilizing experience. Anger interrupts the immobilization often inherent in the grieving process. Honor it, express it with intent to change the undermining status quo of grief, and stop being enveloped by the vortex of quicksand when long-haul grief is present.

Anger can awaken you out of complacency.
Anger can show you how you care more than you realize.
Anger can make you feel alive, especially when in the muck of grief.
Anger can expel feelings of anxiety.
Anger can be a powerful ally.
Anger Is Not Rage

For someone who has not expressed anger, and has kept it within themselves, its expression can feel like rage. Rage is blinding and binding and out of control.

Angry outbursts create combustible environments for anyone on the receiving end of a tirade. Often difficult to control, anger builds up when you’re not being true to yourself. It’s easy to want to blame others for the grief you feel. Usually, the grief you feel is not anyone’s fault. The experience of a loss is driven by the crude awakening that you are in this alone. It is your lone journey, and no one understands it the way you do.

Before lacing into someone, stop for a moment, take a breath, and reexamine the situation. Follow these next steps, and your anger and grief will be heard and tangled with so you can gain self-control and solace.

5 Tools to Re-regulate the Self When Anger and Grief Are Present

Hint: They do require your presence!

Survey is the first of The Three S’s, survey, stop, and select. It is important to mark what happens in your body and in your mind when the anger starts to emerge. There are warning signs, and they are most likely quite familiar to you. Identify the warning signs of grief and anger—hands sweaty, don’t feel heard by a friend, no appetite, angry at small things. Awareness is the first step to change. This is a body and mind scan.
Body is tight
Jaw hurts
Belly aches
Mind is racing
Mind unable to concentrate
Cold or hot sensations
These signs inform you of a danger zone of anger. Temper the experience by imagining the outcome. Is it the outcome you really want?

2. Now it’s time for the action of Stop, the second of The Three S’s. Stop is an interrupter. First say, “Stop it!” Take in a breath and release it and then:

Drink water
Leave the room
Call a friend
Listen to music
These seemingly innocuous interventions cause the brain to change the anger response it’s locked into. Awareness is the first step to change.

3. Select is the final of The Three S’s. You select the next action based on the preferred outcome.

Keep a journal or notebook with you to create a dreamscape depicting a different outcome: “I am angry about ____________ and this is what I can do about it _____________________________.”
I am alone in my grief, and I need to find support other than friends and family.
4. Learn to breathe. Sounds funny since breathing keeps the body alive, but this is a different type of breath. In five-second intervals, breathe in through your nose, hold the breath, and breathe out through your mouth. Do this exercise five times before letting loose. This will calm the nervous system and create a shift in the ways your mind and body are interacting with the anger response. Practice breathing even when not needed. It will be of greater use when the body knows the rhythm of the breathing exercise.

5. Get smart! Know the self. Your previous behavior is filled with chunky nuggets of information.

What are you yearning for? Name the points of hunger (what feels empty) and desire (what you want or need).

What helped you tame the anger and listen to the temperament of grief? Create a list of feelings that were specific to that occurrence.

Identify the following potential emotional responses that led to the anger and grief response. Jealousy? Regret? Sadness? Lack of control? The list of emotions is endless.

Do this and the conversation between the angry self and the yearning self (grief) will emerge.

The tough emotions of anger and grief are potentially unexpected allies. They will change you through an awakening process that is not chosen yet shifts the status quo into movement and emotional calibration and grace.

Looking for more help working through your GRIEF? Contact us to schedule a FREE initial consult with one of our experts, info@hillarycounseling.com.

Article By: Edy Nathan of Psychology Today