Category: Grief

Finding Happiness After a Breakup

The ending of a long-term relationship can leave you feeling abandoned, resentful, or angry especially if you were on the receiving end of the breakup.  Breakups can create feelings of rejection and a sense of, humiliation, despair, and despondency, however you don’t have to feel these uncomfortable emotions forever.  There are ways to recover and move on with the your life, despite the breakup, you can find happiness again, give yourself time.

First and foremost, be patient with yourself and allow yourself time to grieve.  Short-cutting the grieving process will only haunt you.  Unresolved grief can cause prolonged depression and/or anger, which can simmer and erupt when you least expect.  Give yourself the chance to feel the pain; ignoring it creates an elephant in the room effect.  Facing painful emotions is like staring down a fear, you need to confront it to overcome it. You have experienced a loss, not just a physical loss also an emotional loss, someone you trusted and love.  Even if you were the one to initiate the breakup, you might still have to work through the grieving process, as you let go of one life preparing for another.

Be kind to yourself, treat yourself like a best friend; remember that you are still here, your wants are important, don’t ignore the need for food, rest, and companionship.  Take it easy, rather than beating yourself up by rehashing old arguments or thinking that you could have saved the relationship if you did this or were more of that. Take some time to nurture yourself, take hot baths, read, play music that makes you happy, buy flowers for your house, set your living space up the way you want it to be.  Foster healing through alternative holistic methods such as massage therapy, Reiki, or Acupuncture, take restorative yoga classes.

Surround yourself with loving positive friends and family, people you can have a laugh or a cry with, people who are there for you without judgment.  Be honest with them about your feelings.  If you live far away from these supportive folks, call them; take a trip and visit if you can.  Be cautious of people who try to take advantage of your vulnerability, you don’t need to beg for attention or affection nor do you need to bargain.  Seek out honest, forthright friends that will hold space for you while you heal. Stay emotionally and physically safe when you are feeling susceptible.  During recovery from a breakup, often people run into the arms of a stranger, just because they don’t want to be alone, be wary of that behavior as it rarely leads to a healthy relationship. Stay single for a bit until you’ve worked through the healing process.

Go out with people that make you laugh, find or foster those platonic relationships that leave you smiling.  Laughter is extremely healing physically, mentally, and emotionally.  It lowers your blood pressure, relieves stress and helps you connect with others.

Move, get out and walk, dance or ride a bike. Physical exercise has a cathartic effect, releasing those endorphins that increase your sense of well-being. Sitting around the house, being sedentary can exacerbate feeling bad about yourself and your life.  Holing up on the couch watching endless Netflix movies will only make you feel stiff and slow your circulation. Getting out and exercising, flushes fresh blood through the body, slows the breathing, and quiets the mind all while keeping your body healthy and improving your self-esteem.

Spend time figuring out what it is you want.  Write down how you want your life to look, don’t censor yourself, write without monitoring what is possible.  Do you crave more time in nature, would you like to allow for more creative time, do you want to travel?  Then go down the list and begin to do some of those activities or at least plan for them.  Always wanted to go to Australia but your partner never did, now is the time to splurge, count your pennies and take the trip.  Begin to rebuild your life the way you want, let go of what was and focus on what is and what can be. Reinvent yourself from the pool of personal passions and desires.  Take dance lessons, or that job in the city; start to say yes to you.

Before long, the misery of the breakup will be behind you.  Celebrate that you have come through the fire, you have not just survived, you are happy and most likely a better more wholesome version of yourself.  Realize that the breakup as painful and awful as it was, taught you something about your resilience, your ability to heal, then open your arms and let happiness back in.


Sound Heals

If you have ever been lulled by the rustling of wind through the trees or relaxed on the sand listening to waves lap the shore, you’ve experienced the healing aspect of sound.  Perhaps in the morning as you awake you hear the birds singing and it causes you to smile, to feel safe, to ponder the gifts of life.

Notice how particular songs, rhythms, or melodies have the power to lift and renew your spirits. Other sounds or vibrations can be irritating or cause you to lose focus, the unrelenting sound of a jackhammer for example.  Sound has the power to set an emotional mood, be it romantic, sultry, festive, or relaxing.

Sound has been utilized as a healing modality for thousands of years in a myriad of cultures.  Many indigenous people use drums, flutes, spiritual songs, chants, and rhythms to promote health and healing.

Simple physics tell us that everything has its own sound or vibration and resonance, that the frequency in which it moves varies.  Although we can’t hear the music of a wood table or a rock their molecules are moving, they have an energy that is creating vibrations, sounds.

Part of PTSD from being in battles is from the constant barrage of noise.  Even pets respond to bad vibrational sounds such as fireworks, gunshots or loud squealing of tires.  When a person is overexposed to abrasive sounds, this wreaks havoc on the nervous system, which in turn can cause dis-ease.

Good vibrations or soothing sounds, on the other hand, calms and comforts us. In an article The Healing Power of Sound, Karen Olson describes how sound therapy can heal everything from headaches to chronic pain. Diane Mandler, a certified sound healer in California, writes that her clients obtain: “relief from pain and discomfort, clearing of sinuses, shifting out of depression, [improved] ability to sleep . . revitalization and clarity, feeling of well-being, great connectedness, and deep personal transformation.”  Using Tibetan singing bowls; Mandler believes these healing sounds and vibrations bring the body back to balance. Sound medicine ascertains that realigning your vibrations will keep you physically and mentally healthy.

How exactly does sound heal?  The healing quality or vibration in particular sounds resets or synchronizes with our brainwaves, allowing us to quiet the mind.  Similar to meditation where the breath is the vehicle, healing sounds allow the fluctuating brainwaves to find a steady vibration that takes you into a relaxed state of being.  When your body is in harmony it is able to heal. Sound healing can allow stuck energy to flow again by penetrating blockages.

Children respond to soft, soothing sounds as well.  Take a crying baby outside (if it is peaceful of course) and watch as they stop and listen to the wind, the birds.  A roomful of rowdy toddlers can be tamed with a bit of relaxing music or singing.

Learn to be aware of sound in your life. If you live in an urban environment, you may be overly exposed to the squeal of subways, the constant roar of traffic, the buzz of never-ending conversations or people’s music, which may be abrasive. Just like being mindful of your diet or getting enough exercise, being aware of noise is essential to your well-being.  Carve out time to close your eyes and listen to healing music; Spotify and Pandora both have a plethora to choose from.

Try a sound therapist if you have insomnia, migraines, or chronic pain as a way to heal. Seek out natural sounds as often as you can, and let the healing vibrations bring you back to balance.


How to Deal With Losing a Pet

If you have ever had a pet that has passed on or had to make the difficult decision to euthanize, you know how challenging the grief can be.  Our pets are part of us, they are an extension of our families and when they are gone, there is a big hole in our hearts that often triggers feelings of guilt, sorrow, despair, and depression. The following offers a few suggestions to help you cope with your loss.

Allow yourself to feel, to cry, to experience the death of your pet rather than stuffing your emotions, allow them to happen and be present with them.  Deal with your feelings and grief as they arise, this will help you in your ability to process the loss. Talk about it with loved ones, friends, share that you are feeling sad. If you have children, talk to them about their feelings, give them permission through your example to express their grief openly.  Give them and yourself the opportunity to talk about your beloved pet.

Prepare a ceremony, either before euthanizing or after your pet has died plan a celebration of life.  Gather at your pet’s favorite spot, or in your home. Invite people who knew your beloved companion, light candles or burn incense.  Ceremonies help give us closure and a chance to commemorate our pets.  They help us deal with our grief and our losses as well as allowing others the opportunity to say good-bye.  Maybe have the children sit in a circle and light a candle.

Create a memorial, a place where you can show homage to your pet.  If you have their favorite toy or a memento, (such as a tuft of hair or a paw print) choose a sacred spot in the backyard or under a favorite tree where you can make a small shrine.  Memorials help you remember, they also help you process loss.  Place pictures or anything sentimental on the memorial.  Maybe your pet had a favored stuff animal or quirk that you want to remember. Again, if you have children, this is a wonderful way for them to actively work through their grief.  They can color pictures, make sacred symbols such as a cross, Star of David, or a rainbow.  

Deal with your guilt, if you have any, and most everyone that has had to euthanize a pet, has questioned their decision, even when they know it was the right and humane choice.  You may be mulling over memories, imagining that the pet was not that bad off.  The truth is, when we are in pain, feeling sad over a loss, we forget details, we tend to gloss over the grim realities and fantasy like ideas that maybe it wasn’t that bad.  Going back over what could have been done differently does nothing but perpetuate guilt. Know that you and your vet made a kind and loving decision and that your pet is no longer suffering.   

Give yourself time, rather than rushing out and replacing the loss with a new pet, allow yourself ample room for grief.  The new pet will never have the exact same temperament and unique nuances that the old one had.  Be kind to yourself, create space for grief and sadness and time to truly be ready to move on.  Grief is an unfolding process, simply willing it away or avoiding it stunts that process.  You may experience all five of the stages of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance) or perhaps just a few.  Over time, the pain fades but not the memory of your pet.  You will get to a place where you can once again laugh at silly stories of your pet’s personality while remembering those tender loving moments you shared.


Saying Good-bye

Whether it’s saying good-bye to a friend who is moving, a child going off to school, or parents who were visiting for the holidays, regardless of the scenario, saying farewell is hard.  It can elicit feelings of loss, sadness, and melancholy that can stop you in your tracks, at least temporarily. You may experience old feelings of abandonment or separation anxiety. Know that all of these emotions, although uncomfortable, are perfectly normal. Here are a few suggestions that may help.

Let yourself be in the moment with your feelings, acknowledge them knowing you are not alone in coping with good-byes, everyone experiences them.  Give yourself a day or two to notice your emotions and give yourself room to breathe. When we stuff feelings they tend to lasts longer and can fester causing you to feel prolonged grief or sadness. You may choose to lighten your work load for the first day or two giving yourself permission to take it easy. Listen to music that soothes you, talk to friends that are comforting and kind and that can relate to those good-bye blues.  Be honest with yourself and others about how you’re feeling rather than putting on a mask and parading around as if you’re absolutely fine.

Plan how you will stay in touch with the person, you can do this ahead of time. Eventually you’ll look forward to those letters, Skype sessions or phone calls, as they will enrich your sense of connection.  Send cards out on a regular basis, the old fashion snail mail way. Recall the delight you get when receiving something happy in the mail, such as a thinking of you card and start a tradition with the people you said good-bye to.

Take a walk or do a home yoga practice, allowing your body to move can help you process feelings.  Getting outside in nature can lift your spirits and renew your sense of well-being. Breathe and remember all of the joy and happiness you experienced with the person or situation you are missing.  Smile and recognize the value of healthy happy relationships in your life and the gift of change. We could attempt to dodge loss if we never loved or took risks, but what sort of life is that?

Try journaling your feelings.  Sit down and write in a notebook or on the computer (whichever feels right for you) and pour your emotions onto the page, uncensored.  Getting feelings out, literally, can help put them into perspective. Write down all of your feelings, the happy, the sad, the confused, the silly and don’t stop until you have them all out.  If you are saying good-bye to a child going off to college or moving away, compile a list of all of the wonderful things you want to remember. Listing can help you sort through feelings as writing helps you declutter your mind, it lightens the load.

Draft a poem or write a song or draw a painting about your feelings.  Some of our greatest creativity can stem from loss.  You don’t have to be professionally in the arts to create, simply allow your emotions to evoke a piece of art.  It can be a profound process that may open up the artist within.

Give yourself time to readjust.  All of us get into patterns and routines or we take for granted that a particular person (whether at work or home) will always be there, till they’re not.  We are disrupted and forced to deal with a different experience. Set small achievable goals like changing your sheets or cleaning a bathroom—avoid making major decisions or tackling big project until your feelings of sadness have subsided.    

Although you can’t avoid the pain of saying good-bye, you can be proactive in how you cope.  Throughout your life there will be plenty of hellos and good-byes, recognize this is a reflection of the rich tapestry of loving caring relationships that fill your life and those around you.  

 


Hope

We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.            

                                                                             ….Martin Luther King Jr.

As 2017 is coming to a close, you may recall the highs and lows of the year and wonder where on earth the time went.  During the hectic holiday season, it is easy to get swooped up by the current of celebrations that can at times feel overwhelming, but perhaps take a moment to step back to the banks of what this all represents.  What do all of the ceremonies and traditions mean to you?  Obviously, that answer is unique and personal, but regardless of different perspectives the current of hope connects us all.  

Whether you participate in Christmas, Hanukah, Kwanzaa, or simply enjoy the seasonal lights, trees and decorations, the concept of hope resounds. One of the reasons many people participate in traditions is because they believe they’re important for renewing a sense of belonging and restoring hope for the future.  Many traditions are meant to be a respite for the modern world, to step back and reconnect with loved ones.  But what if you don’t feel hopeful despite the festivities?  Maybe you are burned out from a stressful career, a break up, or an aging parent who now needs you? It is possible to renew your sense of hope amid despair or challenges.

First of all, hope is essential to human beings for survival.  Hope is blind to difference it is not dependent on social status or income, it is not reserved for the few–it is a birthright.  One-way to jumpstart your hope is to set simple achievable goals.   Rather than laboring over a grandiose list, take baby steps.  Maybe you want to take the holiday celebrations down a notch or two, you want to switch out the pressure of gift giving for volunteering or getting together for a pot luck and a silly gift exchange or you want to reemphasize the spiritual.  Find a step-by-step way to achieve the goal. Invite friends, keep it simple and let others contribute.  You will probably be surprised how many people are happy and grateful, this in turn gives you hope that change is always possible.  You can revise the status quo.

Perhaps you want to go back to college in the next year or find a new job.  Begin to talk to the counselors or department heads, learn everything you can about different programs that appeal to you and set a date to start the application process.  If change in career is what you’re after, take a step in that direction, talk to others find out what you need to get started.  Hope will revive when you picture your possibilities, then as you begin to do things towards that goal, hope like oxygen to a fire, will fuel itself.  

In the book “The Anatomy of Hope.” Dr. Jerome Groopman, found that researchers discovered the power of hope to change the chemistry of your brain. “Belief and expectation are the key elements of hope. When people experience hope, they can block pain by releasing the brain’s endorphins.”

Surround yourself with people that believe in you, that give you hope and sincere positive reinforcement. Stay clear of chronic naysayers, particularly if you are on the mend to building your hope back up. Repeat hope mantras such as, “I can” daily.  Post sticky notes that restate your right to hope, to become, to believe in whatever you want.  Words and thoughts are powerful, by surrounding your psyche with positive people and mental images, hope will bloom and cheer you to the finish line.

As the holiday season continues, take a moment to remember that with each setting sun comes a sunrise and we are reminded that with hope, all things are possible.   


Finding Light After Loss

The blog this week deals with devastation, loss, and ways to cope and recover.  After the horrific damage caused by this year’s hurricane season, many find their homes ravaged or completely destroyed, pets lost or knee deep in wreckage that may take years to repair. How do we cope with such loss?  How do we go on?   

Grief is inevitable with loss of any kind and it comes in hundreds of colors, shapes and sizes and looks different on everyone. One thing that may help is the concept of impermanence.  In Buddhism, (you don’t have to be Buddhist to embrace this), everything both happy and sad are malleable.  As a good friend of mine has said to me, “one thing we can count on is change.”  When going through bereavement, knowing that you won’t always feel this horrible, or helpless, does help…eventually.  It takes time to heal and it is important to your recovery to acknowledge your feelings.

Allow yourself time to collect your thoughts, try not to make any hasty decisions until after the fog has lifted.  When you are in the throes of emotions, you may feel like running away or starting over somewhere far away, unfortunately your feelings will follow you.  Wait to make life-changing decisions until you feel stronger and clear to exam the pros and cons. Give yourself permission to put things on the back burner and focus on what is essential in the moment.

Start slow and chunk out tasks.  If you have to start over from a natural disaster, you may begin to feel the light poking through as soon as essentials are dealt with. Don’t take on everything at once.  Prioritize, what you need first and foremost, then work from there.  In other words, don’t put all of your worries and concerns in the same basket, it will be way too heavy a burden.  Take care of your basic needs for shelter, food, safety first. Everything else can wait. Take help when it is offered, people often want to contribute in some way, be it bringing meals or watching your children.  Let them.

Know when you are incapable of dealing with the loss and ask for help.  If you find yourself unable to function or to get out of bed, reach out to a professional.  There is a huge difference between profound depression and grief.  The latter is temporary and may simply need time to fade the other requires treatment.  If you are prone to depression, a significant loss may trigger symptoms, reach out to those around you, tell them your true feelings and get help.

Understand though that in reality, you need to give grief time and space to dissipate. You may begin to notice less sadness in three months, but don’t be surprised if you’re still glum, at least some of the time, months after your loss. For most of us, it takes about a year before we have consistent grief free days.  

Let the light of laughter in when it shows up.  Although there may be a string of dismal days allow the curtains to open and set aside your worries.  Perhaps a laugh with friends over funny memories or a dinner you’ve been invited to.  It is okay to give your grief a time out, to find joy again.


Dealing with Loss

Well, everyone can master a grief, but he who has one. – William Shakespeare

We have all been there, a loss of one kind or another; the death of a friend or family member, the passing of a beloved pet, an unexpected tragedy such as a flood or hurricane  that alters our journey forever.  You may be experiencing a divorce or the end of a long term relationship.   Whatever the loss, it can be downright torturous to get on with living.  Most of us veer towards the familiar and when you experience a demise, change crashes in on your life uninvited.  But there are tools that can help you navigate through the painful terrain of grieving and dealing with loss.

First and foremost, don’t deny your feelings, otherwise they will end up somewhere in your body and wreak havoc.  It is normal to feel a profound sadness, to cry or wail, and to experience a sense of hopelessness. You don’t have to make excuses for your emotions, they are uniquely yours and everyone copes with loss differently.  You may feel utterly overwhelmed, angry or unequivocally fearful. When a person or family pet or companion passes it can flood you with memories and the void can feel physical.  Or the ending of a marriage or partnership can produce tremendous grief.  Acknowledge the surge of emotions with the same empathy you would give others who have experienced loss.  This is not the time to be stoic and keep a stiff upper lip.

When you are ready, share your feelings, talk to friends and other family members who are good at listening.  What you don’t need is a list of things you ‘should’ do.  Open up to people who can actively listen, that means they’re not the ones talking. Stave off those who try to cram unwanted advice down your throat, although they may have your best interest at heart, they are not you, they have not walked your path.  Now is the time to be present with what you are experiencing.  Facing your feelings helps you to come to terms with them, to put them in perspective, to shake hands with them and realize they are part of the process and part of you.      

If we bottle up our feelings they fester and eventually, like bad wine, turn sour and are that much harder to swallow.  Open the door to your heart, let the contents spill out to those you feel emotionally safe confiding in. Get out of your thinking mind and into your feelings.  The mind tries to rationalize or distract you or even judge you, which will not help your progress towards wholeness.  Perhaps write how you’re feeling down or pen a letter to the deceased or journal your experience without censoring your words.  Let the paper absorb your sadness or resentment then either keep it or burn it, depending on what will honor your emotional well-being.

If there is no one that can help you unburden your emotions, seek out a support group or a counselor.  In fact, there is an array of bereavement groups that could help you with your specific loss and even those with a plethora of family and friends can benefit from the solidarity of those who have suffered similar experiences (although let me be clear every situation is different and don’t compare your grief response to another).  Find the right one for you, one you can feel comfortable in expressing yourself honestly and without judgement.

Keep some semblance of a routine. If you like to walk in the morning or evening, perhaps try to keep that healthy habit up.  Or maybe you love to water your flowers every morning or make coffee and read a book or listen to the news or watch the squirrels dart in the trees.  Whatever it is, by sticking to a few simple constants, you will create a sense of stability that not everything is lost, not everything has changed.

Try to eat as healthy as you can and stay rested.  If you have lost your appetite try eating smaller meals more frequently, foods that are easily digested.  Get a little exercise to help you sleep, ask a friend to walk with you or perhaps cycling helps clear your mind. If you have a yoga practice, this can be very soothing during times of duress.  Taking little measures to maintain your health, will help you cope with the loss. It is okay to step away from the sadness for a bit and indulge yourself in an activity that quiets the pain, if even temporarily. This is not the same as ignoring or escaping your feelings, it is rather an attempt to bring your life back to balance. Throughout the day we experience a gamut of emotions, allow yourself a reprieve from the painful ones.

Breathe, and give yourself time to grieve, be kind to yourself.  Try to not self-impose deadlines for when you should feel better.  Know that it is a process, just like learning how to be a parent or how to keep your relationship healthy, grieving a loss takes time. Albert Einstein once said, “It’s not that I am so smart, it’s just that I stay with problems longer.”  Allow the wounds of loss their proper healing time and eventually the pain will subside.


Expanding the Heart

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Our remedies oft in ourselves do lie” William Shakespeare

“It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.” This quote from the children’s story, The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, bears a universal truth. Love, connection to self and others, and a deeper understanding of life, creates peace and happiness. Last week, we looked at how life long learning benefits your body, mind, and spirit. Knowledge is like love; it springs from a sundry of sources and is obtained only when we are open to it. Schools and colleges provide fodder for your mind what about your heart; the seat of seeing the unseen, the understated, the unspoken. When you grow in wisdom, you learn how to see the world through the eyes of your heart center.

In modern society, you are encouraged to pursue an education and this is sound positive advice. There is a freedom in learning, but equally important is to not fall into spiritual complacency. When is the last time you let go of fear and danced into the day or stopped to admire the cloud formations? Perhaps you have everything you could possibly ask for and still find yourself disgruntled or hungry for more meaning and inspiration in your life.

Like the brain, our heart is an organ but it also literally and figuratively, transports the life force that courses through us. How do we learn to access and increase these subtle energies? First, by being mindful, present in each moment. Naturally this takes time and practice as well as learning ancient and contemporary philosophies that offer guidance and insights. There are thousands of books and websites that can help enlighten us.

Other ways to enhance your spirituality are to tune inward to the energetic fields within. Perhaps read about the chakras, the seven subtle energy centers that when working together create a sense of balance and harmony. Take an active role in raising your consciousness through meditation, positive affirmations, and healing therapies such as acupuncture, sound vibration, and Reiki. By educating our inner selves we begin to peel the layers of fear or negativity away. When we learn to empower our hearts we toss out the stories that keep us paralyzed and separate from our true self. The self that is not influenced by social expectations or age or status in life.

Learning how the lattice work of invisible energies influence your life, can raise your awareness and help you heal the heart. Trying cultivating a mindful attitude towards the inner selves that are at play within you. Respectfully acknowledge these varying energies and explore the many ways that offer healing. For example, if you feel chronically tired, perhaps the fatigue stems not from the physical but rather from a sense of spiritual depletion. Your heart feels heavy, maybe try taking quiet moments throughout the day to acknowledge your spirit, to let it feast on a positive mantra or reading.

Let go of the kinetic call of multi-tasking, look at how you can simplify your life to carve out more time for sitting in stillness or to pray or meditate, to literally reconnect with the energies/spirit within. To listen to the inner voices calling for more love and less anger. Look for the answers by going inward. Yoga is a wonderful practice that combines the healing of mind, body, spirit. There are hundreds of different styles to choose from. Or maybe read a book on energy medicine or the Tibetan healing through sound. Explore the different spiritual practices that may resonate with you.

Whatever route calls you home to your heart, follow it to find the bliss that comes from learning the language of love, which over and over again will guide you to a more fulfilling life.


Laura Baker is my guest Blogger: Seasonal Affective Disorder.

The Best Tips On Dealing With Seasonal Affective Disorder

Seasonal Affective Disorder affects about five percent of Americans, leaving them with a feeling of sadness during fall and winter months that won’t abate until the weather gets warm again. The symptoms can be intense; feelings of depression, an increased appetite (which can trigger a loss of self esteem), lowered energy, an inability to think clearly or focus, substance abuse, and a major change in sleep habits; yet many people are unaware of just how much people who live with SAD are affected, shrugging it off as “the blues” or something that can be easily overcome.

For most, it’s not the simple. If you suffer from SAD, it’s important to be familiar with some easy tips on how to cope with it during the hardest weeks of the year. Here’s how to get started.

Modify your home

Your home is where you go to feel safe, comfortable, and stress-free, so it’s important to make sure it works in your favor where Seasonal Affective Disorder is concerned. Paint the walls with bright colors, or decorate with colorful artwork. Use sheer curtains or light-filtering mini blinds to allow as much natural light to come in, especially in the most-used living spaces. On sunny days, try to get outside if possible and soak up the vitamin D.

Practice self-care

Taking good care of yourself is essential when a disorder makes life harder. Do something that makes you feel good, such as indulging in a pedicure or massage, as often as possible. Eat right–dark, leafy greens, nuts, fish, and berries are a great start–and get in daily exercise. It might help to get up a little earlier than normal to take advantage of all the daylight you can, since the days are shorter in colder months.

Get health-conscious

Making your health a priority is always important, but never more so than when you suffer from a disorder that can affect your sleeping and eating habits. Talk to your doctor about taking a vitamin D supplement and make sure you get adequate rest while still leaving several hours in the day to get things done. It’s tempting to go to bed early when it gets dark at six p.m., but that won’t lead to productivity. Build a DIY home gym so you can stay busy, or invest your time in a hobby such as woodworking or crafting.

Spend time with animals

This might seem like an odd way to ward off depression, but animals have actually been proven to significantly benefit our mental health. The unconditional love we get from our pets is especially beneficial. If you have a pet, make a point to spend some extra time playing or cuddling with them when your SAD kicks into high gear. If you don’t have a pet, find other ways to get some quality time with a four-legged friend. For example, you might become a pet sitter or offer to take a friend’s pooch to the dog park.

Get creative

Even if you’ve never felt particularly creative, it’s a good idea to mine those feelings of sadness for a spark of something else. Write in a journal, paint, sing, or play a musical instrument. Think of what makes you the happiest and give it a try; you never know what might come out. In fact, most types of art expression are a very valid form of expression and are used to help individuals with PTSD, disabilities, and depression all the time.

If none of those sounds appealing, try keeping a journal. Writing down your feelings and thoughts every day can be helpful and will allow you to vent.

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Holiday Blues?

20101231_0693It’s not unusual to feel stressed, blue and overwhelmed during the holidays. Ken Duckworth, MD, mental director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness says, “A lot of people would say that the holidays are the worst time of the year. They’re just straight up miserable.”

It’s like Facebook on steroids… reminders of other people’s happiness can be particularly difficult when we are feeling lonely or sad, or if we are dealing with any sort of loss or family conflict. The holidays hold an expectation of joy, from music on the radio, to TV and movies, to decorations everywhere we go. Many people have a fantasy vision of what their holiday ‘should’ look like, and it’s usually doesn’t turn out exactly as they anticipate. Disappointment occurs. Many people feel pressure to be happy and social. Trying to be someone they are not exacerbates the problem as well.

Loneliness and depression can be very painful, and it can help you to realize that you are not alone.

Knowing this brings me to my second point. Helping others is one of the best ways to lift yourself out of the blues. This can be thought of as the giving aspect of the holiday season. There are always folks who could benefit from your assistance and good will. Whether it’s a smile on the other side of a soup kitchen serving station or visiting a senior citizen housing complex, volunteering at an animal shelter, working at a homeless shelter or even just a show of compassion by giving the clerk at Macy’s a bottle of water to recognize that she doesn’t have the easiest job during this time of year, you can change someone else’s day.

What else can we do to help ease us through this holiday season?

  • Lower or better yet, eliminate your expectations
  • Plan ahead… be selective with how you spend your time.
  • Do something every day that you love to do. What makes you happy? Painting, reading, yoga, cooking, Tennis … Nurture that part of you that fuels your spirit.
  • Limit alcohol, sugar and carbohydrates. Too much alcohol can be the catalyst for problems where there might otherwise be none. Sugar, caffeine, and refined carbohydrates elevate cortisol, the stress hormone, leading to feelings of anxiety.
  • Relax … even if it’s 10 minutes a day. Shut your eyes and breathe slowly.

The holiday season seems to accentuate for many people the shortcomings they perceive in their life. Keep in mind that feelings are temporary and they will pass, as will the holidays. Be kind to yourself!