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LVHN Health Tips: Grief and the holidays

The holidays can be a tough time for people who have lost someone close to them through death, but it can also be hard on people who have experienced other types of loss.

Dr. Babar Choudhry, a psychiatrist with Lehigh Valley Health Network, said loss and feelings of sadness, sorrow, grief or mourning can also be felt by people who have lost something special to them, such as a pet, a job or a relationship. Loss is something that everyone experiences.

“Grief is a normal process,” he said. “I don’t think we can put a length of time on mourning. Everybody’s different. Time is the healer.”

Choudhry said there are five stages to grief.

1. Denial - there is a sense of shock to the loss, an avoidance of the reality it has happened.

2. Anger - feelings of frustration at not being able to change it can cause anger.

3. Bargaining - this step doesn’t always occur, but it can be feelings of “What if” or “If only.” It’s a struggle to find the reasons why it happened.

4. Depression - feeling helpless. Other symptoms can include crying, loss of appetite, sleep issues, low energy or an overall malady.

5. Acceptance - this is a sign that the person is healing from the loss. The person is starting to see hope in the future.

Choudhry said that when we lose something, there is gap in our minds where that thing or person used to be. That gap leaves a feeling of incompleteness.

A person’s culture, their feelings about faith, and the number of people in their lives can all affect how long a person feels sad or grieves. People who were socially active prior to a loss will often heal quicker because of those social networks.

“It falls on our shoulders to identify who is not coming out of it, Choudhry said. “We as neighbors and community have to pitch in to help them. It is a much better gift than just greeting them for the holidays.”

Knowing what to say can be tough though. Choudhry said the important thing is to not rehash the loss, or tell them to put it behind them.

“The goal is not to realize what they lost, but what there is out there to gain,” he said. “Grief or loss will be there. We have to move forward with the loss or grief.”

Choudhry also said talking to them in person, if possible, is better than on the phone, texting or using some other digital communication.

There are also ways to help oneself to heal from a loss.

• Get some sunlight. Sit in front of a window or go outside and get 10 to 15 minutes of sunlight every morning.

• Exercise regularly or go for a brisk walk.

• Eat good foods.

• Avoid alcohol.

• Join a support group.

• Start a hobby or return to one.

• Use mindfulness for 15 to 20 minutes each day. Choudhry recommends free videos on YouTube called Palouse Mindfulness by Jon Kabat-Zinn.

Even with all of the help from friends and family, and self-help techniques, sometimes a person needs some professional help to pull out of the grief. That’s OK.

Professional help can include seeing a psychologist for therapy and/or a psychiatrist if medication is needed.

Some ways to know if a professional is needed include:

• A confidant recognizes that the grief is affecting the person’s ability to talk to people and socialize;

• The person says he or she feels worthless, or maybe doesn’t even want to live anymore.

Choudhry said our minds are made up of memories and imagination. Memories make us who we are today, but our imagination is what we could be in the future. Both memories and imagination have the power to cripple a person and stifle growth.

“If we can manage our mind, master the mind, then that memory and imagination can’t affect us,” he said.

Everyone experiences loss. But moving through the steps of grief can take time. METROGRAPHICS