Archive of ‘Healthy Habits’ category

Managing Grief and Loss During the Holidays

For those of us who have lost loved ones, the holidays can be a particularly difficult time. For most this is a time of celebration, to spend joyful time with family and friends, and to be thankful and grateful for those connections. However, for those who have experienced loss, this time of year often serves as a reminder that those we cared for are gone. It can be difficult to experience the joy of the holidays, and some of us may even feel guilty when we do experience that joy again. When grieving the loss of someone important to us, the process continues. No matter when the loss occurred, it’s important to know that grief can return at different points, and the holidays can be big triggers for this grief. The pain dissipates over time, but it never truly goes away, and anniversaries and events such as a holiday often reopen the wounds of loss. For those of you who will experience this over this holiday season, I’d like to offer some help with managing your grief so you can both honor the loss and also remain in the present where joy can be recognized and attained.

By: Susanna Wetherington, LPC-Intern Supervised by Lora Ferguson, LPC-S

By: Susanna Wetherington, LPC-Intern
Supervised by Lora Ferguson, LPC-S

  1. Talk about it with others who share in your loss.

It is a natural instinct to avoid pain and suffering, so discussing the loss may seem counter intuitive. But talking about the loss with those who understand can be incredibly healing. It is so important to be heard and understood, to have our experience validated, and this is most often achieved either with a professional counselor or with friends or family members who have had their own experience with loss. Be sure to choose someone who will be nonjudgmental and accepting of your experience. This person does not necessarily have to have experienced loss to be a healthy support for you, but frequently being able to speak with others who were also close to the lost loved one can be very cathartic and comforting for both parties. This allows you to share in your pain and see the universality of grief, to know that you are not alone in your suffering. It can also feel wonderful to be in a position to help others through their healing journey. This can also be a healing opportunity to honor the loved one’s memory.

  1. Take care of yourself.

Self-care is extremely important when grieving a loss, especially during the holidays when there is so much else going on that can add stress. There is no one “right’ way to grieve, so try to understand your own grieving pattern. There are frequently bouts of crying, isolation, intense feelings (such as sadness, anger, etc.), or numbness. These can be followed by periods of joviality and socialization. Again, there is no “normal” way to grieve and there is certainly no time period after which you should be “over it.” Get to know and have compassion for your grieving process and the ways in which your emotions may cycle. Compassion means acceptance and the absence of judgment. Your body knows what it needs – trust it! If you seem to be staying in sadness that only worsens over time, it may be helpful to seek professional help, and that is all okay too.

  1. Stay in tune with the present experience.

You can use simple grounding techniques to keep yourself in the present if you feel you are dwelling too much in the past or the future as it relates to your loss. Some techniques include:

  • Going through the events of the day, identifying what you have already done and what you have yet to accomplish.
  • Deep breathing techniques, such as taking a slow, deep breath in, holding it for 5 seconds, and slowly exhaling. Try to do it at least 5 times.
  • Identifying 5 things in your present environment that are red, blue or any other color.
  • Keeping a totem in your pocket or purse (like a button, some dice, or small stone) that you can hold in the palm or your hand and rub with your fingers to orient you to the present moment.

Holiday Traditions: Yours, Mine, and Ours

The holidays are supposed to be full of fun and exciting times spent with family and friends, right? This is usually the case, but sometimes being overly scheduled can become more of a pain then a joy. Between the planning, shopping, traveling, and cooking it all becomes stressful. One big part of holiday stress is trying to decide where to spend the holidays. In hopes of helping reduce the holiday stress, here are a few tips to help you and your partner decide.

By: Savannah Stoute, LPC-Intern Supervised by Leslie Larson, LPC-S

By: Savannah Stoute, LPC-Intern
Supervised by Leslie Larson, LPC-S

  1. Don’t commit to anything before talking about it – your parents might call and suddenly you feel guilty and you commit to spending Christmas at your parent’s house and on the same day your partner confirms with his or her grandmother. Simply telling your family that you want to check before confirming will hopefully work, if it doesn’t, don’t give up. By not confirming with either family, you can take the time to discuss your wants and needs without hurting any feelings.
  2. Discuss your priorities – If you have an ill family member, then spending Thanksgiving and Christmas with them might become a priority. Your finances and busy schedules can also determine how you spend your holidays or if you decide to stay home.
  3. Try alternating – Alternating holidays can make it easier for both families to plan as well. If you spend Thanksgiving with your parents, then spending Christmas or Hanukah with your in laws would be nice for your partner. The following year you can switch. Alternating holidays can also help you plan your schedules and finances through the end of the year.
  4. Talk about your favorite traditions as a kid or come up with your own – On occasion, you might prefer to spend the holidays at home with just you and the kids (or just the two of you). You can take this time to talk about your favorite traditions as a kid. Tell your favorite stories or why these traditions mean so much to you and why you want to incorporate them. If you don’t have any traditions you want to incorporate, take some time to come up with your own. Get the kids involved as well. You can sing carols, decorate cookies, or volunteer in your community.
  5. Be Flexible – You might spend the whole year planning to go to your parents for Thanksgiving, then the last minute, something comes up and you have to cancel. It might not work out this year, but you can always plan an extra trip in a few months or plan for your parents to come visit you.

Family Traditions


Shame: The Insidious Defeater

It wasn’t until after I was out of graduate school and well into my professional career that I really learned about shame. While many of my clients seemed to receive help and work through tough problems and even trauma, there seemed to be a few areas where we would sometimes get stuck. After training with Dr. Brené Brown and her team on shame resiliency, I began to notice huge progress both within myself and in my clients.

Jennifer Alley, LPC

By: Jennifer Alley, LPC

Most of us don’t talk about shame. By definition, shame is that which feels unspeakable; the things that keep us awake at night or nag us throughout our daily tasks. They are the messages we hear in our head when we want to be vulnerable or make a connection with another person; the voice that discourages us when we think of taking a risk or doing something brave. For many of the clients I work with, the voice shows up as something like, “not ____________ enough” (fill the blank with words like good, smart, pretty, skinny, sexy, funny, etc). It also dresses up in messages like, I’m unloveable, flawed, disgusting, broken, worthless, a phony, or a fraud. When we have a fight with someone we love, shame is often the feeling that causes us to curl up in the corner feeling completely defeated and “bad” or lash out and blame the other person, perhaps even shaming them.

For many people, these messages and statements are so insidious, so ingrained that they are perhaps not even really consciously noticed. Instead, they may just be internalized as “truth,” minimizing the chance that the person feeling shame might take that risk, share something vulnerable, or succeed at something hard. It often keeps people from having the close relationships that they would like to have because they fear that if people only knew the “truth” about them, they wouldn’t be liked or considered worthy of connection.

As part of the work I do with clients, I ask them to notice the “tapes” that play in the back of their minds. When they feel challenged, when they are trying something new or difficult, when they feel scared or hurt, what messages are they hearing? They often come back surprised by the amount of negative self-talk or shaming messages that are on replay throughout their days.

Particularly in my work with individuals who have a trauma history including family of origin mental illness or dysfunction, domestic violence, assault, or abuse, with clients who have experienced divorce or made the difficult choice to abort or give a baby up for adoption, and with clients who are in recovery from various types of addiction, there is often a great deal of shame happening consciously or unconsciously.

The biggest problem with shame is that it jeopardizes relationships, stunts our growth, keeps us from connecting with others, and makes us feel very alone. The anecdote to shame is owning our story with self-compassion and love in addition to sharing our story and our shame with those that we trust.

To learn more about Dr. Brown’s work on shame, visit http://www.brenebrown.com. If you are interested in joining a group or receiving individual counseling about shame/shame resilience, visit http://www.austincounselors.org.

Upcoming Group Offering:

Daring Recovery– an eight week group for women in recovery based on the work of Dr. Brené Brown. Facilitated by Jennifer Alley, LPC, CDWF-candidate at 5000 Bee Caves Rd. Suite 100.

Mondays 6:15-7:45pm

October 27-December 15

Group objectives:

  • Gain courage to own, share, and live our stories
  • Learn how to live life sober, transforming the way we live and love
  • Choose authenticity over numbing, pretending, and perfecting
  • Increase self-compassion, empathy, and connection
  • Understand our shame triggers and what drives that feeling of not being enough
  • Connect bravely with other women

Contact Jennifer at [email protected] or 512-761-5180 to register or for more information. You can also visit http://www.austincounselors.org.


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