How to Help Friends or Loved Ones Dealing With Grief During the Holidays

Dealing with loss takes a toll ― emotionally and physically
Grief during holidays

You’re busy wrapping all of your carefully selected holiday treasures. You’re baking mountains of snickerdoodles and snowballs. And then, there’s someone you love — perhaps a partner or a best friend — half wishing the holidays were already over.

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But it makes sense. Dealing with grief can be especially difficult around the holidays, when it appears as though everyone else is having a great time.

Psychologist Scott Bea, PsyD, points out that we don’t generally do well with discomfort. So we often struggle with grief, especially when it comes to comforting others who are dealing with it.

“It’s good to try and blow through your own discomfort and really inquire about the condition of one who has lost a loved one,” Dr. Bea recommends. “Talk about the loved one. Don’t ignore it.”

Feel free to talk about the loss because that’s how our brains and bodies adjust to the reality of what has happened.

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How grief works in our body (and mind)

Dr. Bea says the grieving process actually involves both physical and chemical changes in our brains. These changes produce stress reactions in our body. And they take time to overcome.

The time-table for getting through the stages of grief is different for everyone, which is why it’s important to give people time to heal and not rush them through the process.

Adults handle loss differently than children. That’s because as we get older, we become more aware that things in life do go away and we build up sentiments over time, Dr. Bea notes.

We don’t always get over a loss, but we grow adjusted to it. Time helps us heal because it takes practice for us to be in the world without the person we’ve lost.

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The holidays can also remind us of past loss

If you’ve experienced loss around the holidays in the past, this time of year can be a difficult reminder. And how difficult our history of loss is can often impact how things go for us with each subsequent loss.

Dr. Bea says grief can cascade into “complicated bereavement” or even depression in some cases — especially for those who have had a history of anxiety or depression.

“What we call complicated bereavement are instances in which those chemical responses in our brain and body don’t go away so easily,” Dr. Bea says. “They persist and they predispose us to other problems, including things like depression, or even physical illness. The arousal and activation in our body can actually tax our immune system and predispose us to infections and other illnesses.”

A person who is dealing with grief may be able to function well, he notes, but not feel well. For those who are having a hard time getting through grief, Dr. Bea says there are various types of therapies that can help. But often, just talking about it can help too.

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