Who wants more stress?
Not me, thanks very much. I enjoy the holidays: giving & receiving, getting together with those I love & cherish, embracing meaningful rituals, appreciating holiday decorations, sharing special meals, reflecting on my gratitude & blessings, & acknowledging my ancestors & their contributions. I am mindful to meet some of my needs so that I can enjoy the holidays & keep my stress in check. I have a dear family member who lives a 3-hour airplane ride away. I also have a close family member who gets very sad & depressed around the holidays. I live in a climate where we brace for cold & snow; acknowledging & preparing for these changes helps me navigate.
In addition to my personal experiences, I have worked in end-of-life professions for over 30 years. I was “on call” for decades. We all make personal sacrifices for work, family & friends, & we also get rewards. I have learned so much from bereaved people, from professional educators, from attending seminars, from reading, writing & sharing on topics of interest.
So, to stay healthy, here are some of my tips for practicing self-care & refueling so that I don’t end up overspending, feeling resentful or being an empty vessel.
- Enjoy the spirit of the season & do not allow it to become too commercial.
- Enjoy holiday treats & make sure to balance celebration food with good nutrition.
- Be of service to others.
- Reward yourself with things or people that make you happy.
- Express your gratitude.
- Avoid excess alcohol consumption.
- Avoid having expectations of others; release attachments to outcome.
- Do what you enjoy, not what feels obligatory; consider delegating.
- Accept invitations & give yourself permission to respectfully decline some offers.
- Be mindful of those who are lonely or alone & take action to help in some way.
- Practice self-care: sleep, exercise, nutrition, laughing, being with those you love.
- Pay attention to your choices & strive to make healthy choices.
Bereaved people have taught me that it may help to take pressure off of “the” holiday by celebrating before the actual day. That way, you have had your gathering & you can decide how you feel on the “official” holiday & adjust your plans accordingly.
Some people take comfort in visiting the cemetery or remembering those who have preceded us in death by serving a favorite food, looking at family photos or DVD’s, listening to music that brings back memories, leaving an empty chair or having a home altar or special centerpiece. Some people leave town, visit a loved one or go to a more favorable climate or a place on your bucket list. You might choose to do something completely different this year just to change things up. Routines can be comforting or confining.
Be courageous in asking for help when you need it. Communicate with clarity so people really know how you FEEL. Ask others how they feel & really listen.
Avoid “energy vampires” that make you feel guilty or drain or deplete you even further. If these people are in your immediate family or circle of influence, distance yourself emotionally & physically to reclaim your energy & to protect yourself, even if it means putting on an imaginary shield, dusting off or showering to rid yourself of negative energy, perhaps going to a different room for a while or going outside to be immersed in nature. Be around children or pets that disrupt patterns in a helpful way.
I find that humor helps in navigating loss. Having 30 years of experience in death & dying, I recall a story of a mother trying to guide her child through the experience of his first wake or visitation, which was for his grandfather. The mom took a moment with the child in the back of the funeral home, describing that Grandpa had died, his body was in a casket & Grandma was next to the casket. The mother advised her son to go up to Grandma & say that he was sorry. The child shouted, “I didn’t do it!” Clearly, he was not going to take the blame for Grandpa’s death, which was from natural causes.
On a military service, the 21-gun salute made a loud noise, causing the widow to let out a yelp at the cemetery graveside. A child shouted, “They shot Grandma!” Grandma had not been shot, but was just startled by the loud popping sound. Laughter eased the tension & sadness of the loss.
In closing, nourish yourself with healthy choices in proper nutrition. Nourish yourself by getting adequate sleep & appropriate exercise. Nourish yourself by appreciating nature. Nourish yourself by spending time with those people & pets that you love or by listening to music. Nourish yourself by being of service to others & by expressing gratitude; legacy letters or ethical wills are a great way to let people know that you love, care about or appreciate them. Why wait? Tell them now how they have positively imprinted your life. While it is nice to say these things at a eulogy, it is even better for you & for them to tell them NOW.
Marguerite O’Connor, M.Ed., Experienced Funeral Celebrant & Virtual Franchise Owner