Do you feel sad around the holidays? A lot of people do. The holidays are supposed to be about family, giving, and tradition. So why do many people have a hard time? Are there more deaths, break-ups and other losses during the holiday season? The answer is no. There are no more losses in December than during other times of the year. There are, however, more stimuli that could remind you of past losses.
What is stimulus and how does it relate to grief?
Stimulus is the sights, smells, sounds, and tastes that trigger memories. It causes your brain to recall events or feelings associated with the stimulus. Because so many events happen during the holidays, there is more stimulus than during the rest of the year that could remind you of past losses. Stimulus such as holiday lights, decorations, and music can cause you to remember a family member who died, a break-up, or childhood experiences. Fond memories are normal and healthy. Unresolved grief is when fond memories turn painful.
The same stimulus can affect two different people in two different ways. Let’s say two sisters hear a Christmas song that was a favorite of their mother who died.
One sister might hear the song and remember how much her mother loved it. She may miss her mother for a few minutes, but then she goes back to what she was doing. The song served only as a reminder of how much she loves her mom, but didn’t affect her entire day.
The other sister might hear the song, think about how much she misses her mother, get sad and be unable to focus the rest of the day. She might walk around numb and unable to fully participate in holiday festivities. Or she may refuse to talk about anything other than her mother’s death.
The second sister is an example of unresolved grief.
How do I know if I’m experiencing unresolved grief?
The holidays may remind you of any number of losses, such as moving, events that happened during childhood, an ex-spouse, a sick child, or a pet that died.
If a Christmas tree reminds you of the fun holidays you spent with family member who died, that’s normal. If you then become brokenhearted over the loss of your family member, that’s unresolved grief.
Unresolved grief affects your ability to stay in the moment, which limits your capacity for happiness. During the holidays it might limit your ability to fully enjoy time with your friends and family. Some people avoid holidays altogether because they don’t want to risk the feelings associated with painful reminders of their loss. Until you become complete with the losses in your life you will never be able to fully enjoy all life has to offer.
Memories are common this time of year, but when those memories turn painful you are experiencing unresolved grief.
If you are ready to enjoy the holidays and live life to the fullest please contact a grief recovery specialist
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