Difficulties of getting through grief during the holidays

Cleveland Clinic doctor says it's important to acknowledge loss


Dealing with loss, whether it’s the loss of a loved one, a beloved pet, or even a job, can take a toll on us -- both emotionally and physically.

And dealing with grief can be especially difficult around the holidays, when it appears as though everyone else is having a great time.

Dr. Scott Bea, of Cleveland Clinic, said generally, we don’t do well with discomfort, so we often struggle with grief, especially when it comes to comforting others who are dealing with it.

“It’s really good to try and blow through your own discomfort and really inquire about the condition of one who has lost a loved one; talk about the loved one -- don’t ignore it,” he said.” Feel free to talk about the loss, because that’s how our brains and bodies adjust to the reality of what has happened.” 

According to Bea, the grief process actually involves physical and chemical changes in our brains. 
These changes produce stress reactions in our body and they take time to overcome.

The time-table for getting through the stages of grief is different for everyone, which is why it’s important to give people time to heal and not rush them through the process.

Bea said adults handle loss differently than children because as we get older, we become more aware that things in life do go away and we build up sentiments over time.

We don’t always get over a loss, but we grow adjusted to it. Time helps us heal, because it takes practice for us to be in the world without the person we’ve lost. 

Bea said for people who have experienced loss around the holidays in the past, this time of year can be a difficult reminder of their loss.

And how difficult our history of loss has been can often impact how things go for us with each subsequent loss.

He said grief can cascade into "complicated bereavement" or even depression in some cases -- especially for those who have had a history of anxiety or depression.

“What we call 'complicated bereavement' are instances in which those chemical responses in our brain and body don’t go away so easily and they persist and they predispose us to other problems, including things like depression, or even physical illness, because the arousal and activation in our body can actually tax our immune system and predispose us to infections and other illnesses,” Bea said.

Bea said a person who is dealing with grief may be able to function well, but not feel well. For those who are having a hard time getting through grief, he said there are therapies that can help, but often, just talking about it can help too.