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Taking Care of Yourself During the Holidays

“It’s the most wonderful time of the year”.  When I start noticing signs of Christmas, that phrase is ever present in my thoughts.  I suspect this is so because I grew up with a mother that would pull out old record albums and play holiday music from Thanksgiving to Christmas; NONSTOP!!!  I am convinced my brain will be forever etched with holiday tunes and the happy phrases that are prevalent in the lyrics.  I tell you that story because I am pretty confident I am not the only one that grew up with, and still have, internal expectations of what the holidays should be.  You hear about how magical, wonderful and magnificent the holidays are, and they can be.  Of course the songs do not always portray everyone’s experience.

Even under the best circumstances this can be a stressful time of year, and the pressure is most definitely compounded when you have the additional burden of grief.  Maybe this is your first holiday that your loved one will not be physically present at the table.  Maybe, due to an injury from an assault, you are no longer able to put up the lights or engage in other important traditions.  The physical and emotional consequence of victimization is often times the hardest thing an individual will go through in life.  On top of all the other holiday “expectations” it could feel like it is more than you can bear.  Below are some ideas that may lessen your burden and remind yourself that this can still be the most wonderful time of the year!

“Holiday Survivorship Skills”

1)     Acknowledge grief work as real work; this work takes physical energy that can leave you drained for all of the other “expectations” you may have.

2)     Allow yourself to be merely human; you don’t have to have it “perfect”.

3)     Plan ahead.

4)     Set limits; don’t over-do, over-shop, over-cook, over-worry, and over-comply.

5)     Change your thinking patterns; instead of I should do this say I want to do this.  That way you can decide what really matters to you and what you want your holiday to look like.

6)     Get plenty of rest and exercise.

7)     Tell others clearly what you want and need for the holidays; don’t create unknown expectations because you will wind up getting hurt.

8)     Honor old traditions but also create new.  Your life has changed; new traditions can reflect that change and still bring happiness and peace.

9)     Be generous to yourself.  What are you giving yourself this holiday?  You should ask yourself that question with the intention of following through with it.

10)  Celebrate life.  You may feel conflicted about the grief and joy that are both present; it is not unusual to experience moments of sadness but it is also not uncommon to experience moments of joy as well.  Be kind to yourself and enjoy the happiness as well.

If you or anyone you know needs a little extra support during this time of year, Victim Support Services have trained advocates that will answer the phone 24 hours a day.   We will be accessible on Christmas and New Year’s Day as well.  Please call 1-800-346-7555 if you need us. 

Portions of “Holiday Survivorship Skills” was prepared by Ellen S. Zinner, PsyD and based on materials developed in part by Sally Featherstone, RN