Coping with Grief at Christmas

It’s harder to deal with grief when the rest of the world is full of Christmas cheer.  The sense of loss can be overwhelming and when everything is so family-focused, the absence of a loved one may be felt even more intensely.  Whether it’s a parent, partner or another relative or friend you may well be feeling out of step with the frivolities and jolliness of Christmas.  For many people, Christmas is the hardest part of grieving and when we miss our loved ones even more than usual.  How can you celebrate when you have lost someone special and your world loses its celebratory qualities?

It’s not at all unusual for people to feel that they want to ‘cancel’ Christmas. Christmas can feel like an enormous struggle with a strong sense that things can never be the same again, and facing the first Christmas without that special person can be especially painful.

While some people find comfort in doing the things they always did as a way of remembering their loved one, others find it more helpful to do something completely different.  What matters is that, as far as possible, you can do whatever feels right for you.

It’s difficult to know how you’ll be feeling, so put some safeguards into place… 

Give yourself permission to do less.  Don’t feel guilty if you are not up to celebrating Christmas Day.  How you really feel should be your guide rather than imposing impossible standards for yourself. Recognise how vulnerable you are and ask for help if you need it.

Give yourself permission to have fun. If you are feeling happy, go with it.  It doesn’t mean that you are forgetting the person who is not there.

Rather than recreating previous Christmas Days, start a new tradition and celebrate Christmas in a new way.  Grief has a way of giving us the permission to examine what parts of Christmas you enjoy and what parts you don’t.   You have the right to decide what is best for you and the right to change your mind, even a few times.

For some distraction, can help relieve grief.  You may want to get away from all that is familiar and work on a voluntary basis.  Giving to others at this painful time may help to heal and sustain you.  Contact Volunteering at Crisis at Christmas for more information.

If you do decide to spend Christmas in the company of others and are fearful about the event it may be a good idea to have a backup plan (see below).  Having a backup plan may help you get through the day without even having to use it.  Knowing you have an alternative can sometimes be enough

Share your backup plan beforehand with someone who you trust so that you can slip away to spend some time alone without having to explain to everyone why you are leaving without feeling that you may be offending others.

Plan Back Up Plan Suggestions…

Be gentle with yourself and don‘t do anything that you don’t want to do.

Visit a special place you went to together.

Take a walk and get some fresh air

Listen to music that you like

Look at a photo album

Allow time for the feelings. It’s ok to cry.

Light a candle for your loved one.

Talk to them or write them a letter.  Often people find writing about how they are feeling a comforting.

Ways to express the loss with others in the family who are also grieving

Do something to remember the person you are missing.

Involve children who are missing their loved one and ask them for ideas on how they would like to remember their loved one.

Light a candle for your loved one.

Share a favourite story about your loved one.  Talking about your loved one with others really helps heal deep emotional wounds.

Or have everyone tell a funny story about your loved one.

At your place of worship remember them in a prayer.

Play their favourite music

Go to a place they loved or do something you used to do together.

Write them a Christmas Card

Make a memory box for your loved one and ask other people to contribute to it. Ask people to write about the wonderful times they have shared with them.


Seasonal Affective Disorder

What is Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)?

The change of seasons and lack of daylight affects us all and we naturally feel brighter and more energetic when the sun is out. It’s not unusual to feel the “Winter Blues” as Winter approaches and daylight hours are shorter.  However, for some people the changing seasons have a much greater effect on mood and energy levels, which may lead to feelings of depression.

This is known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and is a type of depression that affects people at a time of the year, usually as daylight hours become shorter.  The symptoms often begin in the autumn and are typically most severe during December, January, and February. SAD often improves and disappears in the Spring and Summer, although it may return each autumn and winter in a repetitive pattern.

Symptoms of SAD

Symptoms of SAD can include…

  1. Lack of energy and increased feelings of tiredness
  2. Difficulties in getting to sleep and/or getting up in the morning.
  3. Problems with concentration
  4. Feelings of depression.
  5. People experiencing SAD are more prone to illness and infection.
  6. Loss of interest in social activities.
  7. Lack of interest in physical contact with others.
  8. Increased appetite for food and alcohol.
  9. Feelings of unworthiness and/or rumination over past “negative” events.
  10. Craving carbohydrates. Low levels of the hormone serotonin creates a need for carbohydrates which act as a natural tranquiliser.

What causes SAD?

No-one knows the exact cause of SAD, but it is thought that the following may contribute…

Reduced exposure to sunlight during the shorter autumn and winter days. The main theory is that a lack of sunlight might stop a part of the brain called the hypothalamus working properly, which may affect the…

  1. Production of melatonin– when it becomes dark the brain produces the hormone melatonin which makes us sleep.  When it becomes light, we wake up. In people with SAD, it is thought that the body produces it in higher-than-normal levels. Animals which hibernate do so because of high melatonin levels.
  2. Production of serotonin– serotonin is a hormone that affects your mood, appetite, and sleep, and a lack of sunlight may lead to lower serotonin levels, which is linked to feelings of depression.
  3. Body’s internal clock (circadian rhythm)– the body uses sunlight to time various important functions, such as when you wake up, so lower light levels during the winter may disrupt your body clock and lead to symptoms of SAD.
  4. Genetic – some people are more vulnerable to SAD because of their genes, and some cases appear to run in families.
  5. Low Vitamin D Levels – Sunlight helps in the production of vitamin D which is needed to produce the hormone serotonin, which provides us with feelings of well-being and happiness.

  Living with SAD – Self-Help Strategies 

  1. Natural Sunlight – Make the most of natural sunlight as possible. It is thought exposure to daylight, particularly on bright days can help.
  2. Look after yourself – Eat healthily and take some daily exercise.
  3. Avoid Stress – Try to manage your days to minimize levels of stress.
  4. Support System – Discuss how you feel with your family and friends so that they are aware of the situation.
  5. Light Therapy – A special lamp called a SAD LAMP is used to simulate exposure to sunlight.
  6. Talking Therapies – Talking with a counsellor can be very useful for people experiencing symptoms of SAD. Counsellors may be able to help you recognise other factors which may be contributing to your symptoms of SAD.
  7. Seeing your GP – You should consider seeing your GP if you think you might have SAD and you’re struggling to cope. Your GP can carry out an assessment to check your mental health. They may ask you about your mood, lifestyle, eating habits and sleeping patterns, plus any seasonal changes in your thoughts and behaviour.

 Further information…







Empty Nest Syndrome

EMPTY NEST SYNDROME-A feeling of grief or loneliness parents may feel when children leave home”.

This is a notoriously difficult time of year for parents whose children are about to head off on gap years or to university.  The truth is, if you have done a good job, it’s natural that your child will fly from the nest and after having spent at least eighteen years as a parent, it is only reasonable to expect that this change may prove difficult for you.  Welcome to the world of Empty Nest Syndrome.

Empty Nest Syndrome refers to the deep feelings of sadness, loneliness, and loss that parents often experience when their children leave home, typically to pursue higher education or start their careers. This transition can be overwhelming, but it’s essential to remember that it also marks a new chapter in your life—one filled with opportunities for personal growth and rediscovery.

Here are some strategies for coping with Empty Nest Syndrome:

Acknowledge Your Feelings

The first step is to recognize and accept your emotions. It’s entirely normal to feel a sense of loss and sadness when your children leave. Allow yourself to grieve, but don’t let it consume you.  You may wonder what your role in life is and how you view yourself.  Don’t make big moves yet.  Give yourself time to adjust rather than suddenly selling the house or moving.  It takes time to fully adjust to the changes you may experience.

Stay Connected

Just because your children have left home it doesn’t mean that you can’t maintain a strong connection with them. Modern technology makes it easier than ever to stay in touch through phone calls video chat and social media but don’t overdo it.  Ask them how often they’d like to keep in touch.  Allowing them to guide the frequency of phone calls gives them a sense of control.

Keep an open-door policy

Moving away from home can be exciting yet frightening experience for many teenagers.  Your teenagers may be doing a lot of growing up, but they’ll need reassurance that you’re always there for them.  They think they know it all – but they’ll soon find they don’t.  An open-door policy where they know they can ring you any time of the night or day when in need gives them confidence.

Treat your Teenagers as Adults

Although you may feel like your teenagers are not able to look after themselves don’t sabotage the efforts, they are making to become independent.  You may yearn the time when they depended on you, and that might lead you to sabotage strides they’re making.   Remember the best lessons we learn are from the mistakes we make so show an interest in what they are doing but resist criticising them for not doing things as you would.  Hopefully by supporting their efforts they will share the important things that are happening in their life.

Invest In Yourself

Do something for yourself.   Make a list of at least three things you haven’t done or have given up because parenting has sapped your energy.  Maybe it’s writing, joining a community group, or learning a new language.  Maybe it’s finding a new career or going back to school.  You are never too old to learn.  Don’t pick something that will take many years to complete, but something that interests you.  Keeping busy or taking on new challenges at work or at home can help ease the sense of loss you may be experiencing.

Cultivate New Relationships

Strengthen your existing relationships and seek opportunities to create new ones join clubs or organisations aligned with your interests or volunteer for a cause you’re passionate about expanding your social circle can help combat loneliness.

Rekindle your relationship with your partner

Many couples are shocked to find that when their personal lives no longer revolve around children, cracks appear in their relationship.  Don’t panic.  This is completely natural.  Stay positive.  Focus on the positive aspects of having an empty nest such as the opportunity to deepen your relationship with your partner or spouse and embrace the chance truly discover each other and enjoy activities together. Talk to your partner about how you feel and discuss your thoughts and hopes for your future.  Talking together about the extra time and energy you might have to devote to your relationships or personal interests after your last child leaves home might help you adapt to this major life change. This maybe the first opportunity in years that you will have had to plan activities together without having to consider your teenager.

Dads Matter Too

These problems used to belong almost exclusively to women but nowadays both men and women may suffer from empty nest as men are far more involved in the lives of their children.

Accept both the good days and the bad days

During the first few months of Empty Nest Syndrome, you may be surprised by your fluctuating moods.  This is inevitable, as some days you’ll be preoccupied with how your teenager is managing without you whilst on others, you’ll quite happily get on with your life.  Learn to roll with these changing moods and don’t hide the bad days from your partner or friends.

Seek support

If you’re having a difficult time dealing with an Empty Nest, lean on loved ones and close contacts for support.  Share your feelings if you are feeling depressed with a counsellor or doctor.  Talk to other empty nesters.  Look to someone who went through it recently or check out the internet for online support groups of Empty-Nesters.


Empty Nest Syndrome is a natural part of the parenting journey, but it doesn’t have to define this phase of your life.  By knowledge in your feelings staying connected with your teenagers and embracing the opportunities that come with an empty nest you can navigate this transition and find fulfilment in your newfound independence. Remember it’s not an end but a new beginning in your journey as a parent.





Is Self Care Selfish?

Do you feel selfish by caring for yourself?

If the answer is yes, read on to understand the difference.  Self-care and being selfish are entirely different concepts that often need clarification.  Both involve focusing on one’s needs and desires.  Yet, selfishness and self-care differ significantly in their purpose and effects on others.

Definition of Selfishness

Selfishness is when a person only thinks about themselves and their interests without regard for the feelings or needs of others.  A selfish person may prioritise their wants and desires over the well-being of others, which can lead to conflict and resentment in relationships.

Selfishness often involves taking advantage of others to satisfy one’s own needs.  A selfish person will lack the ability to compromise and view the situation from the perspective of another.

An example is when one partner insists on a beach holiday, knowing that their partner prefers to have a holiday that involves some sightseeing.  This is an example of selfishness that may lead to feelings of resentment, which can be damaging to relationships.


Definition of Self-Care

Self -care involves engaging in activities and behaviours that help you relax, recharge, and rejuvenate your mind and body.  Self-care involves setting boundaries, so you only expend some energy caring for yourself and is essential to maintain mental, physical and emotional well-being.

Many of us are uncomfortable with the idea of taking time for ourselves.  We are used to taking care of everyone else.  It’s a significant shift to focus on ourselves as it can feel counter-intuitive, as we tell ourselves that it’s wrong for us to put our needs first.

If we do, we often feel guilty about doing something wrong.  Unfortunately, many people spend so much time and energy looking after the needs of others that they often need to recognise that they have needs.

But the reality is that we can’t run on empty.  We only have limited resources to operate, so taking care of ourselves isn’t a matter of selfishness.   Ensuring we meet our needs makes us more able to support others with compassion and care rather than resentment and exhaustion.

Setting aside time to properly care for our mental, physical, emotional, or spiritual needs is not selfish.  On the contrary, creating time for proper self-care is a selfless act.  It’s an essential part of maintaining optimum physical and mental health.  As a result, you have more to give yourself and people, projects and work you care about.

Self-care isn’t selfish, and it’s not unimportant or trivial.  It’s not just about taking spa days or candle-lit bubble baths (although these are acts of self-care).  It’s about taking personal responsibility for protecting your emotional and physical health.  Some ways we can practice self-care…

  1. Setting Boundaries.
  2. Having enough sleep, rest and food.
  3. Having regular breaks (no more desktop lunches)
  4. Doing things that you find enjoyable.
  5. Spending time with people who you enjoy being with.
  6. Exercise that you find pleasurable.
  7. Time doing absolutely nothing.

Melanie Beattie, in her book Codependent No More: How to Stop Controlling Others and Start Caring for Yourself, describes self-care as “As an attitude toward ourselves and our lives that says, I am responsible for myself… I am responsible for what I give and receive… I am responsible for how much I enjoy life and how much pleasure I find in daily activities… My decisions will consider my responsibilities to myself”.

Self-care and selfishness may involve prioritising one’s needs and desires.  Still, they have vastly different effects on oneself and others.  Self-care helps to promote a healthy and positive relationship with oneself and others.  At the same time, selfishness can lead to toxic and damaging relationships.

When you take care of yourself, you are more able to handle the challenges of everyday life and support others.  You also set an example for others to prioritise their self-care, which can lead to a more positive and healthy community.

What changes do you need in your life to incorporate your needs for self-care?


Beattie, M. (1992) Codependent No More: How to Stop Controlling Others and Start Caring for Yourself.  Minnesota: Hazelden.