Tis The Season to Be Jolly?
It is now officially the holiday season, which means it is time to begin decorating, purchasing greeting cards and gifts, and scheduling visits with family and friends. Not to mention, it is the time of year to be jolly and grateful for our blessings. This is of course according to our cultural traditions, family expectations, and the media’s messages.
There is a lot of pressure on everyone to actively participate in celebrations and embrace the moments with joy. But, when you have lost a loved one to a death, having holiday spirit is the last thing on your mind.
Whether the death was 5 years ago or 5 days ago, memories of previous holidays with your loved one are regularly triggered and old grief commonly resurfaces. So, it’s not surprising others may be depressed during the holidays when you combine grief and the social pressures to be joyful.
Fantasies of loved ones returning, resentment of others having perceived fun, and anger that loved ones are not here are common thoughts that also complicate emotional reactions and drive isolation and avoidance.
Although everyone’s healing has a different pace, acknowledging that it is normal to feel grief during the holidays helps bring comfort and decreases feelings of shame.
A helpful way of managing intense emotions during the holiday season is being proactive and coming up with a self-care plan. This helps armor those grieving with strategies to cope with planned and unplanned holiday experiences. I use the Holiday Grief Self-Care Plan template as a guide, but you can also use a blank piece of paper with the following directions:
- Start by making a list of holiday expectations, anticipated negative possibilities, unwanted individual encounters, and uncomfortable feelings.
- Next, create a list of action plans that match these scenarios to review and practice before the holiday. For example, if one anticipates seeing their Grandfather on Thanksgiving will bring a flood of grief from reminders of losing their Grandmother, create a list of self-care strategies that will be implemented when in this moment.
- Include families to participate in the writing and reading of the list. Invite the discussion of creating new holiday traditions, experiences to mourn their loved one, and ways the family members may be of support during more vulnerable times.
- Use the list for ongoing discussion, practice of role plays, visualization, and mental rehearsing.
When not attending meetings or providing groups and individual sessions, I live at my desk. Throughout the year, I am able to spend hours at a time completing paperwork, sending emails, playing on social media, and creating resources for TPT. Because I had become a pro at engaging in sedentary work habits, it was becoming easier for me to pack on pounds and feel down. In an effort to prevent this and keep up with my work, last year I found two game-changing office essentials that I now refuse to go without- a desk bike and a light box.
I start my workday at 6:00 in the morning and my office lacks any natural light. I can substitute losing these important rays, by turning on my light box for 45 minutes every morning. While I catch up on emails, I place my feet in the bike pedals and burn away the calories. I have noted a significant improvement in my mood. Gone are the days that I feel guilty for not getting off my butt! I absolutely still benefit from getting up and going on walks, but these office essentials help me to feel good about myself when I need to finish important work.
It was Back to School Night for parents a few weeks ago and I introduced myself to my son’s new school counselor. Following our greeting exchange, I politely asked in private how my son was doing. The 6’4 twenty-something counselor immediately pulled his body away, avoided eye contact, and said with force, “I can’t talk about that because of confidentiality.” His defensiveness to my innocent question caught me off guard.
After ignoring my impulse to walk away from his intimidating presence, I asked him to clarify what he was talking about. Specifically, because the treatment goal is just improving social skills. The counselor blurted some scripted speech about needing to protect my son’s privacy and wanting to preserve rapport with him. He was unapologetic and appeared apathetic to my curiosity.
When I finally mustered up the courage to tell him I was frustrated and that no one at the school had ever talked to me in his tone, he acquiesced and gave me some general updates about my son. At that point, all rapport with me was destroyed and I was emotionally checked out of the conversation. My detachment from our interaction prevented him from hearing any useful tips and strategies that would make his job less challenging this school year.
Bridge Burning 101:
- Dismiss a parent’s question about how their child is doing.
- Use confidentiality as an excuse to not engage.
- Use body language that shows you are in control and disinterested.
- Use a memorized script to answer questions.
- Invalidate a parent’s feelings.
- Be inconsistent with what you say and do.
- Neglect to ask a parent for their input and see the value of their collaboration.
- Permit interruptions and give divided attention to others.
Those of you that know me, know I am not a public speaker. I am the first to duck and cover when a volunteer is invited to lead a group, teach a course, or speak in front of an audience. I am a combination of an introvert and overly self-conscious.
I have sublimated my insecurities by becoming an expert listener. I score extra points with friends because I do not monopolize conversations, and my clients appreciate that I do not offer unsolicited lectures.
My social anxiety has transferred over to my writing, and as a result, I have avoided creating this blog for years. With some gentle nudging from colleagues and TPT followers, I have made the commitment to myself to live with “Brene Brown like vulnerability” and finally share my expertise with others.
My goal of this blog is to document a combination of creative, useful, and evidenced-based strategies for parents and professionals working with children, teens, and adults with social and emotional growth needs. I am calling this experience and the tools I will provide on this page, “Mental Fills.”