It’s the most wonderful time of the year. But sadly, not for everyone. Whether it’s dealing with loss, getting over an addiction, being new in town, helping children post-divorce or caring for a senior citizen, Dr. Hafeez has suggestions to help make the holidays a bit easier to navigate.
For the newly divorced or widowed:
Loss is a sad, life-changing event at any time of the year. However, it tends to be harder when everyone around you is joyful and giddy with holiday cheer. “Don’t be so hard on yourself by trying to minimize your pain,” advises Dr. Hafeez. Allow yourself to grieve – it’s only natural. She also suggests reaching out to family and friends and joining a grief or support group. Surrounding yourself with loved ones or others going through the same experience will help you feel less lonely. To find a grief group in your area: http://www.griefshare.org/findagroup
Dr. Hafeez is an advocate for volunteering. Helping those less fortunate can give you a sense of love and pride, while immersing yourself in the true spirit of the holidays, in the hopes of lifting your own. Lastly, Dr. Hafeez says to “be good to yourself. Take a long bath, read a good book, get a massage. Do something that you love to do and makes you feel good. Neglecting yourself will only make you feel worse.”
For those who are new in town – A Meetup Group is a local community of people. A Meetup Group hosts Meetups, which are face to face meetings that happen in real life between members and organizers. They can range from anything from “a new in town” group to yoga groups, restaurant groups, you name it, there is a “meet up” for every hobby. On the Find a Meetup Group page, you’ll be able to see the location, description, and topics of Meetup Groups. You can also browse individual Meetups within all the groups in your area. www.meetup.com
Seasonal Affect Disorder– A light box mimics outdoor light. Researchers believe this type of light causes a chemical change in the brain that lifts your mood and eases other symptoms of SAD. Most people use light boxes for a minimum of 30 minutes each morning.
You can buy a light box over the counter, or your doctor may recommend a specific light box. Light boxes, available from stores and Internet retailers, come in different shapes and sizes and have varied features. They also produce different types and intensities of light. Light boxes are designed to be safe and effective, but they aren’t approved or regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), so it’s important to understand your options.
Depression? There’s an App for that. More people commit suicide during the holidays than at any other time of the year. Unfortunately for people who are under the care of a psychologist, it is very likely their treatment will be interrupted over the holidays due to vacationing doctors. Thankfully, there are many excellent apps for Android and Smart Phones. Some top apps are: Health Through Breath, Secret of Happiness, Depression CBT Self Help Guide, NIH Depression Info, and Fitness Builder.
For the caretaker of a senior citizen:
Don’t forget that elderly people tire easily and can be vulnerable to over-stimulation. “Limit the number of activities for these people and schedule time for a nap if you are traveling or take them home when they become exhausted,” says Dr. Hafeez. Offer to cook for them at your home or help to cook at theirs. While older people may no longer be self-sufficient in the kitchen, there is no reason why they can’t help. Dr. Hafeez says “including them in the meal preparation is a great way for them to feel involved in the holidays, without putting them in any danger.” And if you are gathering in a place that is unfamiliar, make sure to remove slippery throw rugs and other items that could present a problem to one who has balance problems or difficulty walking.
For the parent dealing with post-divorce children:
Dr. Hafeez suggests that, “one parent may just have to be the ‘bigger’ one and give in for the sake of the kids,” when there is a dispute taking place. Whether it’s over the holiday schedule or bedtime after a party, the kids feel the stress. Also, Dr. Hafeez advises to try to collaborate with your former spouse over presents, so there is no competition over who gives the best gifts. “And never undermine the other parent. If he or she says they aren’t allowed to have something, don’t buy it! Be an adult,” says Dr. Hafeez.
For the recovering alcoholic:
Recovering from addiction is hard. Period. But it’s harder when holiday festivities are filled with friends and family drinking everything from eggnog to champagne. “Be prepared for what you may face, before going to a party,” advises Dr. Hafeez. She suggests an answer like “I’m choosing not to drink today,” or “I’ve decided to be the designated driver,” should get people off your back.
Dr. Hafeez also offers this advice if you are traveling over the holidays. “Traveling often takes you to places where drinking can be encouraged, such as airports, planes and hotel bars.” Prepare yourself ahead of time by reminding yourself over and over that these settings may make you uncomfortable, but you don’t have a drink to make yourself feel more comfortable. If you have to, make yourself a note in your phone and read it to yourself if you’re starting to feel vulnerable.
While this year may not be the happiest and easiest of holidays, remind yourself that next year will be better. “Looking forward, not back, is the best way to embrace the future on a positive note,” says Dr. Hafeez.
Sanam Hafeez Psy.D
New York State Licensed Neuropsychologist and School Psychologist