Grief can be minimized with social contact during the holidays

Monday, December 18, 2017

Each year, the holidays bring a flurry of activity with the hustle and bustle of shopping and holiday parties. “Tiny tots with their eyes all aglow” find it hard to sleep as they anticipate the receiving of gifts from under the tree. But for some, the holidays are a painful reminder of the loss or hardship they have experienced. Their inability to sleep is not in anticipation of gifts, but instead is a sign of an inner struggle that may cause them to isolate themselves from friends or family.

“The holiday season alone, with its multiple parties and gatherings is very stressful. That serves to increase everyone's anxiety. We often go to these things with expectations. If you have had a loss, it is much greater, specifically because if that loss was a very close loss, it may have been somebody that you share these activities with. So the activities actually serve as reminders of that loss. Most times you find that people want to isolate themselves from those activities, or not go to them as much. Or they stand off by themselves. It is part of the grieving process,” said Mary Fahrmeier, M.D., psychiatrist with Fitzgibbon Mental Health.

Often friends or family members struggle with what to say or how to provide support to an individual who is struggling with grief during the holidays, but Fahrmeier says this kind of support doesn't have to be awkward or difficult and can be just what the individual needs to make it through the holidays.

“Give them a call, or bring them some dinner. Send them a card or a note letting them know that you are thinking of them. Encourage them to get out of the house. One thing to remember is that they don't feel like being around people, but we know that people heal better when they have the social contact and support. So the more social contact and support that they have, the better healing process they have,” said Fahrmeier.

With the expectations of the holiday activities also comes certain expectations from loved ones that an individual should behave a certain way after an amount of time has passed after a loss. But Fahrmeier cautions that there is no set way that people grieve, and those expectations may actually cause more stress.

“I often explain to my clients that there is no ‘getting over’ a loss. Each one of us grieves differently. It may get a little easier, but there will always be the memory of that person. You are not going to forget them. Each of us deal with it differently. Obviously there may be tears, and they may not want to decorate. Those are things that each individual has to decide for themselves what they are willing or capable of doing. However, others need to encourage them to be around people. Just because they don't decorate, doesn't mean you can't take them to a Christmas service, or go drive around town and look at Christmas lights together. That spending time together and providing support in a private way can really be beneficial. There are different stages of grief, but we all grieve differently,” said Fahrmeier.

While depression and loneliness may be a challenge for some during the holidays, the Centers for Disease Control states that suicide is actually the lowest during the month of December. Nevertheless some choose to end their own lives during the holidays due to a deep depression, so loved ones should always be aware of the signs and symptoms.

“If you notice your loved one giving stuff away, isolating themselves more and more, and are referring to themselves in the third person, or if they talk about future events as if they aren't going to be around, you need to seek help for your loved one. There are many resources — including your local emergency room — which often has social workers or mental health providers that are trained to assess and provide care. Often the crisis intervention teams in law enforcement also can assess one's safety if it seems your loved one is suicidal. There is also a suicide hotline which has certified counselors who are available to talk,” said Fahrmeier.

The National Suicide Prevention Hotline can be reached by calling 800-273-8255. Additionally, if you would like to make an appointment with Dr. Mary Fahrmeier, M.D., or the other social workers at Fitzgibbon Mental Health inside the Fitzgibbon Medical Clinic, you can call 660- 886-7800.