Holidays - the emotional roller coaster

Posted 11/21/19

Dear Dr. Ted:

'Tis the season to be jolly has hit me like a fist in my belly. Why is it that I'm already anticipating a difficult emotional roller coaster as the holidays arrive? This year I had a loved one die and all I can think of is her every time there is hint of the holidays. Why is it that this happens?

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Holidays - the emotional roller coaster

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This column seeks to help educate our community about emotional healing through grief. People may write questions to Golden Willow Retreat and they will be answered privately to you and possibly as a future article for others. Please list a first name that grants permission for printing.

Dear Dr. Ted:

'Tis the season to be jolly has hit me like a fist in my belly. Why is it that I'm already anticipating a difficult emotional roller coaster as the holidays arrive? This year I had a loved one die and all I can think of is her every time there is hint of the holidays. Why is it that this happens?

Thanks, Michael

Dear Michael:

The feelings you are experiencing are very common - having ups and downs of the emotional roller coaster of grief and loss as well as the impact of the holidays arriving.

I thought of this at Halloween, when the marketing took off like fireworks with costumes, candy, parties and events. Before the day was over the stores were already moving onto Thanksgiving and Christmas items and other themes. It does not matter if these holidays are part of your beliefs or not - the energy, marketing and discussions will have a focus on the arrival of the holidays.

Within this holiday energy, your mind will start to remember historical benchmarks which would include the holidays. Especially with a present loss, the emotional roller coaster may feel more like an emotional free fall of anguish.

Over time, the hope is that historical memories start to enter as well, and there starts to be more of a balance of emotional pain and pleasant memories. There can be pressure during the holiday season of having to be "jolly" and it does not feel like there is room for melancholy or sadness due to the demand for the excitement of being happy. This collective demand to be joyful might make you feel like you are doing something wrong, different than the norm or left out of the flow of the people around you.

When you become conscious of an upcoming holiday, anniversary or other emotional benchmark in your life, you start to mentally prepare for that event. Similar to anticipating a physical impact from running into a wall and flinching, your emotional world does the same thing and flinches to prepare for the moment that may be painful. This instinctual and emotional flinch is called "anticipatory grief."

Acknowledging your emotions during your awareness of upcoming events will be beneficial in helping navigate what action you will take. This will help you steer the emotional roller coaster, presently and in the future. It also gives you time to decide what your internal boundaries will be for the holidays.

You may choose to increase or decrease social activities, stay home or travel and make any other choices to help ease this difficult time period. Give yourself permission to be aware of your feelings and realize they are not wrong or right.

The collective pressure of being joyful does not always hold up, but knowing you can navigate your roller coaster can allow for a level of self-care and autonomy in a time that may be emotionally disruptive.

Honoring joy and sorrow, difficult and happier times in your life and losses and gains, can actually be the formula for gratitude, growth and healing. Taking the time and permission to honor yourself rather than giving in to outside pressures will help you work with upcoming events as well as be more present today.

Thank you for the question. I wish you well. Until next week, take care.

Golden Willow Retreat is a nonprofit organization focused on emotional healing and recovery from any type of loss. Direct any questions to Dr. Ted Wiard, EdD, LPCC, CGC, founder of Golden Willow Retreat GWR@newmex.com

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