Lead Story West Edition

Coping with stress, grief and loss during the holidays

LOS ANGELES — For most people, the holiday season is a time of joy, celebration and cheer.

But for others, the holidays can be a stressful and depressing time, especially if they bring back the memories of loved ones who are no longer around.

Psychologist Thema Bryant-Davis held a seminar at the First African Methodist Episcopal Church Dec. 7 to deliver advice to the audience about how to cope with grief and loss during the holidays.

“Remember that you are not the only ones under stress during this time of year,” Bryant-Davis said as she surveyed the room, ”We need to take a second to slow down and practice mindfulness, which is being still on purpose. It’s taking a second to do an evaluation of ourselves so that we know how we feel.

“It’s not unusual for people to experience a number of symptoms during the holidays such as panic attacks, stress, depression, anxiety, addiction, overeating, too much shopping, overindulgence with alcohol or gambling, turning into a workaholic on the job, or an extreme attachment to cell phones. These things not only show up in our behavior, but also in our spirituality.

“Other symptoms brought on by grief and loss are bouts of insomnia, overeating and traumatizing dreams,” Bryant-Davis said. “I went to talk to an older woman in our community and she started cooking and giving me food because she didn’t have the words to comfort me.

“At this time of the year, we are stressed about resources, other people and the expectations we place on ourselves,” she added. “We might feel stress in our chest or our stomach or we might have a fight or flight response. We usually put ourselves down.

“We need to be mindful in the way that stress shows up,” Bryant-Davis said. “Many people experience depression during this time of year and will try to wave it away. Your girlfriend might say, ‘Girl, just come with me to church. You’ll feel better.”

“Or a person who is feeling stress may be in denial about their feelings. They’ll say, ‘I don’t need to have friends right now. I have Jesus’ or ‘I don’t need a plumber, I told God.’”

Bryant-Davis said some people indulge in high-risk behavior such as promiscuity or driving without a seat belt, like their behavior doesn’t matter. Actually it’s a cry for help, she said.

“We need to be tuned in to those who are silent and we have to create space for people so that they can say how they feel,” Bryant-Davis said. “Others indulge in extreme and excessive worry. When you have a good day or moment, are you enjoying it or are you worrying about tomorrow?’

Bryant-Davis suggested that if a person is in isolation or dealing with depression, they should choose to connect with a friend and let them know how they are feeling.

“Play your favorite music or buy yourself a treat,” she suggested. “Go to free concerts or take a walk in nature. You don’t have to shut down and do nothing.”

Bryant-Davis distributed a brochure about managing holiday stress which suggested that people dealing with grief practice self-care. Suggestions included getting plenty of sleep, eating well, and striving to be healthy by drinking plenty of water, avoiding excessive alcohol and getting enough exercise.

Other suggestions included being honest about one’s feelings. The grieving person must decide how much celebrating they can handle. Maybe handing the responsibility of the family dinner could be someone else’s job this year. It suggested surrounding yourself with people who wish to support you in what you need.

It also suggested remembering your loved one in a prayer before eating; lighting a candle to symbolize your loved one’s place at the table or read aloud a poem.

The brochure also urged people who are grieving to feel gratitude for the things that are going well in their lives (health, job, friends, family, etc.)

“Remind yourself that you are allowed to experience joy and happiness,” Bryant-Davis said. “These feelings are not disrespectful to your loved one.”