Taking care of your heart during the holidays

Lauren Rose—
Holiday spirit | illustrationby

We all see the commercials. Everyone is enjoying the meal with smiles as conversation is filled with energy and laughter. For some this is reality. For many it is a moment remembered from days gone by, or longed for one day. For some the holidays are a combination of joy and pain; celebration of relationships and the pain of relationships altered by death, divorce, health changes or other change.Take heart. I mean that. Take care of your heart during the holidays. First let’s explore the reason the holidays can be difficult, and I’ll offer suggestions along the way. Our culture holds the holidays as a time for family and friends to celebrate and be happy. Don’t make yourself feel worse by feeling bad about not being happy.If you have had a significant loss in the last year then your holiday will feel different. And of course you know loss is not limited to death or divorce. What if your health has really changed since a year ago? What if you have moved? Grief with significant loss takes energy. To grieve is to share your loss with someone who can hear it. You don’t need premature comfort, the kind that in some ways tells you to not share. You need the honest listening of someone who can hear your grief. This is what any of us need when we grieve. So, if you have had a major loss in the last year or so, then don’t think you “should not feel whatever you feel related to the loss.” Find a trusted friend or two and tell the story of how your holiday is being impacted by your loss. This is not the life of the party story telling, but it may just help you connect with the friend. Often it is our struggles in life and pain that help us connect more deeply than achievements and successes. We have all had losses. Your sharing might just be a bridge to the hurt your friend needs to share as well.A few other suggestions for taking care of your hurting heart during the holidays. Limit your time with events that drain and do not give you energy. For most of us this means paying attention to balancing pleasing others and ourselves with how many activities. Sometimes being with family can feel like judgment and criticism on not measuring up and holidays can exasperate this. The ache of relationships not as close as you wish can throb even more with holiday expectations. Try to literally take care of your heart by exercise, and by resisting the seductive urge to salve pain by emotional eating or overdrinking.Stan Yancey, MSW, MDiv., Licensed Clinical Social Worker and Credentialed Pastoral Counselor sees adolescents, couples, and adults in his private practice in Raleigh.stanyancey.com