Not Feeling Too Festive?

You’re Not Alone.

The holidays, for some, bring cheer and hope of fresh beginnings as the calendar turns; for others, they are a reminder of loss and loneliness. In 2020, we have all been affected by loss in some way: meeting across screens rather than tables, faces obstructed by masks in public, and togetherness—or lack thereof—defined by a global health crisis. Many people will be spending the holidays this year separated from family and friends.  Grief is not exclusive to death; and bereavement for life as we once knew it is not only common but can feel overwhelming this holiday season.  As a community, and nation, we are unified in that loss; but grief doesn’t necessarily stop; it changes, becomes compartmentalized, and we adapt. But how do we cope?

The RVNAhealth team is composed of experts at assisting patients and their loved ones navigate the complexities of all types of loss—health, mobility, and death. The RVNAhealth hospice team focuses exclusively on helping patients and their loved ones navigate end-of-life needs and challenges. Board-certified hospice music therapist Sherrye Platt enhances patient quality of life using individualized therapeutic music programs, and she is also a believer in regularly taking a gratitude inventory, especially this year. “Grief and gratitude go hand in hand,” says Platt, referencing new appreciation for moments and memories that often accompany grief. Platt suggests during this holiday season that we all “keep in mind what gifts we do have, no matter how small or insignificant they may seem. Some of the most important gifts we have are not the ones in wrapping paper.”

It is possible that many of us may be experiencing pandemic burnout. The inundation of COVID-19 news coverage detailing the gravity of the pandemic is stressful and emotionally exhausting. So how do we focus on blessings when there are so many people facing financial and health crises? Try a strategy used by the RVNAhealth hospice team and start small and give back. Maybe a neighbor waved hello. Or a book you’ve been waiting to read became available at the library. The ability to recognize small blessings, the ones we often overlook, can cause a mindset shift. Gratitude doesn’t need to be grand to be meaningful and every acknowledgment of something positive increases our mood-boosting brain chemicals, even if for a moment. Furthermore, doing something kind for others, no matter how small, can have maximum impact on our own mood. Send a handwritten note of gratitude to someone who is valued. Leave a bag of treats for a neighbor’s pet. Make eye contact and say thank you to someone who may often be overlooked – a worker retrieving grocery carts from an icy parking lot, or a delivery person. Showing gratitude can help us feel it ourselves.

There are other proven strategies for coping with grief, particularly during the holidays when we are inundated with messages that one “should” be feeling more festive:

  • Validate your feelings. Give yourself permission to feel sad or angry with recognition that feelings are not forever and that how you feel today is likely to change.
  • Vent to a trusted resource. One of the few positives of COVID-19 is the collective grief and isolation we are experiencing. Comfort can be found in shared understanding.  
  • Get fresh air. If safely possible, bundle up and step outside to breathe in the crisp winter air, even if only for a few deep inhales. Or take a walk, particularly on a sunny day, which can boost mood and help with sleep.
  • Try something new. Always wanted to learn to knit?  Curious to walk every street in your town? Now is the perfect time to tackle something that keeps dropping on the priority list. It could be a transformational experience or become a treasured hobby. Attempting something new holds value in itself.

RVNAhealth understands the complexities that the 2020 holiday season brings. These are unprecedented times and the uncertainty of what’s to come can feel frightening.  We know, though, that grief and gratitude are close relatives and that if we all remain open to recognizing even the smallest blessings, they can sustain us…even during the darkest of times.

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