Strategies to Address and Reduce Holiday-Related Stress and Grief

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December 18, 2014 | 47,076 views

Story at-a-glance

  • For many, November and December are a favorite time of year, with major holidays bringing family and friends together, but it can also be an incredibly stressful time
  • Energy psychology tools such as EFT can help you reprogram your body’s reactions to the unavoidable stressors of everyday life, which tend to become magnified this time of year
  • Basic lifestyle strategies that can help you maintain a healthier equilibrium during the holiday season include getting exercise and restorative sleep, meditation, practicing mindfulness, and scheduling time to eat at a leisurely pace
  • Optimizing your vitamin D levels and making sure to reseed your gut flora with beneficial bacteria from fermented foods or a probiotic are also important basics for your mental and emotional health
  • Other stress-busting tips and tricks include saying “no” to things you don’t want to do, banishing the word “should,” cutting your goals down to a more manageable size, reevaluating your expectations, and more

By Dr. Mercola

For many, November and December are a favorite time of year, with major holidays bringing family and friends together. But it can also be an incredibly stressful time, as party planning, extra cooking and shopping, not to mention navigating potentially difficult family dynamics, might stretch you to your limits.

Also, since Thanksgiving and Christmas often stands for family togetherness more so than other holidays, it is the time of year when you may become acutely aware of any such voids in your life, magnifying feelings of grief, isolation, loneliness or loss.

Those who have recently lost a loved one may feel their grief particularly intensely during the holidays. Financial woes, health issues, or having unrealistic expectations of making your holiday "perfect" can also tip the scales from a time of joy to a time of misery.

It's important to remember that you cannot divorce your wellness from your emotions. Every feeling you have affects some part of your body, and stress can wreak havoc on your physical health even if you're doing everything else "right."

The classic definition of stress is "any real or imagined threat, and your body's response to it." Celebrations and tragedies alike can cause a stress response in your body, thereby affecting your immune function, brain chemistry, blood sugar levels, hormonal balance and more. Grief in particular is increasingly being viewed as a cardiovascular risk marker.

Facing Grief During the Holidays

It may be helpful to remember that your grieving process, whether over the loss of a loved one, a relationship or a pet, is a uniquely individual process, and there's no "right" or "wrong" way or length of time to grieve.

Remain open to the idea that whatever you feel is OK. That said, I'd encourage you to do your best to foster a positive attitude, and to focus on the "higher" emotions of love and gratitude.

Research1 has actually shown that "repressive coping" (i.e. directing your attention away from your negative emotions) after a loss tends to strengthen emotional resiliency.

People who focused their attention on other things and didn't dwell on their grief experienced less depression and anxiety, and had fewer health complaints than those who expressed their negative emotions freely.

This doesn't mean you should ignore the situation by any means. It would be unreasonable to think you could somehow eliminate negative emotions or stress entirely. But whether you're dealing with overwhelm, grief, anxiety, anger or any other negative emotions this holiday season, there are effective tools that you can try that can help you get through it.

EFT to the Rescue

If emotional stress, grief, or anger is a burden to you this time of year, I suggest trying the Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) to help you remove negative emotions and enjoy the season. Energy psychology tools such as EFT can help you reprogram your body's reactions to the unavoidable stressors of everyday life, which tend to become magnified this time of year.

EFT can be used as a do-it-yourself form of emotional acupuncture that balances your body's subtle energy system and resolves unrelenting emotional pain. Instead of using acupuncture needles, you use your fingertips to stimulate specific acupuncture points.

When your energy system is balanced, emotional pain dissolves, allowing you to move past the grief. The basics of EFT can be learned by anyone and can be self-applied, but if you're experiencing complicated grief or want some extra guidance, I recommend using an experienced EFT practitioner.2

Also remember that while grief can feel insurmountable and become all-consuming at times, you can take comfort in the knowledge that virtually everyone is eventually able to move past the dark feelings.

Typically within six months, you'll begin to see a light at the end of the tunnel. In the videos below, EFT practitioner Julie Schiffman demonstrates how to tap for stress and anger that may surface during the holidays.



Here are a few additional strategies that can help you keep your sense of balance during the holidays when stress threatens to overtake you. For even more stress-management tips and tricks, check out the slideshow above:

Embrace the "NO": Be gentle on yourself, and give yourself permission to say "No"… It really is okay to take special time for yourself. If the holidays have you feeling down for whatever reason, indulge in the things that make you feel happy, whether they're holiday related or not.
Banish the "shoulds": If a certain tradition causes more stress and discomfort than joy, give yourself permission to do things differently! Remind yourself that there is no right or wrong way to celebrate Thanksgiving (or Christmas). Ban the word "should."
Cut goals down to size: Regain a sense of control by scheduling no more than one or two manageable goals per day, even if they're as simple as writing a few cards or cleaning a small section of a room. The satisfaction of completing these tasks can add to your sense of well-being and help you get everything done, over a longer period of time.
Seek out positivity: Seek out positive people who make you feel better, and avoid people who add to your stress or contribute to your depression.
Divorce the Jones': Focus on what you and your family want to do for the holidays instead of what other families are doing, and prioritize your time accordingly. In a similar vein, make a concerted effort to realign the focus of the holiday to reflect your spiritual or ethical beliefs rather than commercial values. You may need to discuss how you and your family will do this, as it can take many forms depending on your beliefs.
This Christmas, shop smarter, not harder: Take advantage of online shopping instead of rushing through malls. If you've got more time than money, make homemade gifts, or give gifts of service instead.
Ask for help: If the thought of cooking Thanksgiving dinner gives you a headache, arrange to have friends and family over to help you cook ahead of time or hold a potluck dinner instead.
Lower the bar of expectations. Sometimes, it's your expectations that are the cause of holiday frustration and disappointment. To avoid this pitfall, try setting realistic expectations for how people will behave, how the food will taste, and how everything will look. Simply allowing the holiday to transpire without any real expectations, focusing instead on maintaining a positive and grateful attitude, may be the answer you've been looking for.
Celebrate the memory of loved ones who have passed. Ignoring the void a certain loved one has left may worsen feelings of grief. Instead, try to incorporate the good memories into your celebration.

[+]Sources and References [-]Sources and References

  • 1 Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 2007 Apr;92(4):745-58
  • 2 Directory of EFT Certificate of Completion Program Practitioners
  • 3 Harvard Health Beat March 27, 2012
  • 4 Journal of Physiology and Pharmacology 2011 Dec;62(6):591-9.