‘Tis the Season to Be Jolly?

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It is the time of year where there is an expectation that all the crappy things that happen to us in the year will be forgotten as we come together and celebrate Christmas and that the pain we carry will be left behind…..just for one day.

BUT……when someone we love has died, Christmas can be unbearably difficult. The whole world seems to be celebrating, everybody appears to be obsessed with preparations that confront us at every turn – in shops and streets, on TV and radio, in magazines and on the web and social media. Instead of feeling a connection to family there can be a feeling of alienation and isolation which can intensify our yearning for our loss and our grief.

As we contemplate Christmas, especially in the early years of our bereavement, we wonder how we will survive. It is normal for those heavily impacted to feel they just want to “cancel” Christmas? It may not feel the same as it was because our family unit is not the way it was, there has been change. If this is the first year, it may be painfully different from previous years. We may find the anticipation and stress of what we “should” be doing very hard to deal with. Do we decorate the tree, send cards, give presents, attend a place of workshop, join in the festive meal or go to a Christmas party.

If we have younger children do we continue with important traditions of trips to the shops, the decorations, concerts or Christmas photos? Many bereaved parents find the run up to Christmas – with all the accompanying anticipation – can be more difficult to cope with than the actual day itself.

Here are some ideas that might help and support you as you prepare for the holiday season:

  • Don’t allow other people to dictate to you how you should get through this extremely difficult time of year.
  • Don’t feel you have to plan. Sometimes we don’t know what we will feel like doing until the last minute.
  • If you wold like your loved one acknowledged by others at Christmas, then tell them, whether it is to see their name in a Christmas card or to remember them with a toast during the Christmas (many may be scared of doing this unless you tell them) or a candle on the table.
  • Spend time with people who understand and avoid those who don’t.
  • On Christmas day make time for yourself to escape if things become too much. A walk outside can really help reduce tension.
  • If you can’t cope with the idea of Christmas at all then perhaps going away and doing something completely different can be an option.
  • It can be difficult to know how to include the person who has died in a card. Some choose not to send at all while others include their name or a symbol to represent. One idea is to write “Love from X and Y and always remembering ………….”
  • Develop a Christmas ritual. Maybe you can attend a candle lighting service with others who are bereaved (Woronora holds one every year), spend time at a special memorial place on your own or with others or make/buy a special car or decoration.

When we experience the trauma of loss the Christmas period can have a shadow, a yearning for what should have been, an added poignancy. As difficult as this festive season can feel I want you to know that you can survive it. When we delve into what really matters, we can see that the importance of this Christmas is that you do what feels right for you and that you are able to carry the loving memory of the person you miss into this year and future Christmas times.

No matter the timeframe, if you are having difficulties with managing your grief and loss then consider booking an appointment at Aim For Hope Counselling and let’s chat about how we can help.

Father’s Day

Another significant date is approaching – Fathers Day. I wish all the Bereaved Dad’s a day that is a reflection of the love they hold for their child even though it is not the way anyone every thought it would be. While our response to the day may change over time, the sorrow and pain as this day comes and goes can be draining and emotionally exhausting and like any event, the lead up can often feel worse than the day itself. 

If you have recently (or not so recently) had your Dad pass away then this day can also feel altered and different to the majority around you.

I have taken extracts from the Australian Centre for Grief and Bereavement and provided some thoughts.

One thing I would like to add is that grief impacts us all differently so if you are a partner wanting to make this day really special but he seems reserved then that is ok……remember Father’s Day is a day for Dad’s and it needs to be how he wants to spend it. Sometimes we want to put our own grief support onto our partners and then we wonder why we end up arguing……if they don’t want to do anything or acknowledge the day the way you would like that’s ok…..it’s their day and it doesn’t mean they are not hurting just maybe coping with the impact differently.

If there is a sense of panic about the day then ask yourself, “What do I need at this time?”. Be in tune with your needs as well as those around you. It is OK to put yourself first (this is your day).

Fathers Day may have established traditions and there may be pressure to fulfil those customs – it is ok to alter your traditions if you need to. Your “normal” has inevitably changed and you may prefer to create new traditions.

If you know how you are going to spend the day, let family and friends know what you intend to do. Be honest with them and let them know that it is a difficult time for you. Often they can feel unsure how to act around you, so let them know that it is OK for them to talk about your baby and that if you get upset that is OK too.

Try to take care of yourself emotionally. Try not to suppress your emotions and at the same time don’t be afraid to enjoy yourself if this occurs. Happiness and sadness can co-exist and being happy is not disrespectful of your child. It is also OK if you choose to avoid people at this time, particularly those who are unable to understand your experience of loss.

On Fathers Day, free yourself from the expectations of yourself and others, and give yourself permission to not be OK if that is the way you feel. Use the day to do something you wouldn’t normally do in memory of your baby, child or Father and do something that makes you feel good. It may be as simple as reading a magazine, going for walk, listening to music or enjoying a good breakie.

May the day be a peaceful one.

How to Cope with Exam Anxiety

For many students across Australia exams bring a ranging level of stress. Normal levels of stress that are manageable can help students think faster, be more effective and improve performance.  For some though, the increased level of stress causes anxiety that can impact performance with negative outcomes. Most people suffer anxiety around exam time which can cause:

  • Patchy sleep and sleepless nights
  • Irritability or short temper
  • Increased worry
  • Stomach butterflies or cramps
  • Poor appetite or comfort eating

Being able to identify triggers enables the opportunity for solutions and coping mechanisms to be put in place. For example:

  • Are you generally a worried person?
  • Have you had good time management to prepare?
  • Have you had previous bad exam experience?
  • Do you place extra high standards on yourself?
  • Are you feeling well?

If you feel that time is against you or that your worry is increasing as you begin to prepare for upcoming exams then maybe a chat with a counsellor can help you approach the revision, night before and during the exam stress…..it’s all in the planning.



Anxiety and Nutrition

Depression and Anxiety are not just states of the mind that can be easily changed overnight. Depression, in particular, may arise from other conditions and as a result responds well to both medication and counselling but the role of folate and other nutrients are also under investigation for treatment.

Have you ever stopped to think how your diet may impact your mental health? Recent studies are indicating that diet may influence mood in several ways. Certain amino acids and other nutrients act as cofactors in the production of neurotransmitters. Dietary carbohydrates and protein influence the rate at which neurotransmitters enter the central nervous system from the blood. Caffeine and alcohol (as I am sure we are all aware) have a big influence on the nervous system.

Coping with Depression or Anxiety can be a challenge and often requires making lifestyle changes…..have you considered your diet in those changes to help make a difference to your general mood or sense of well-being? While they are no substitute for counselling here are some helpful tips:

  • Eat a breakfast that includes some protein
  • Eat complex carbohydrates
  • Drink plenty of water
  • Limit or avoid alcohol
  • Pay attention to food sensitivities
  • Try to eat healthy, balanced meals.
For further nutrition advice contact Corinne Flannery – Nutritionist (0419569646)
For further counselling information contact Aim For Hope Counselling Anxiety-and-nutrition-620x1024

When Anxiety causes us Grief.

Often when we grieve we can feel very exposed and vulnerable to those around us and to our environment. This experience can be new for many individuals and as a result can intensify our fears and worries. Our level of stress increases and we find ourselves becoming anxious about everyday events that normally would not impact us with the flight or fight response….minor circumstances and events can feel like major disasters, leaving us feeling very out of control and insecure (and very unlike ourselves).

Anxiety can feel crippling as we begin to worry about worrying. The balance between emotional and realistic fears becomes blurred, creating one huge ball of anxious messages from the brain that becomes exhausting to live with. The nervous system works overtime, heart rate and blood pressure may go up, sweating may become apparent and the muscles tense up. Other symptoms include:

  • Inability to sleep
  • Feelings of fear without knowing the reason why
  • Sense of panic
  • Sense of losing control
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Flash backs to traumatic events

Combined with grief, anxiety can feel like it is debilitating and never ending. While it is normal to have anxiety during grief, the good news is that anxiety is treatable and manageable with a range of coping techniques available through talking to a counsellor and working on self help treatments.

If you are experiencing anxiety within your grief please know there is an end to that sense of helplessness, it just takes you to make that call to a health professional FB_IMG_1426238208021for guidance.

Sudden Loss

Any form of loss is devastating, there is pain and there is heartbreak. When a loss is sudden and unexpected it can feel like there is a diminished ability to cope. Those grieving the death of their loved one are left shocked and stunned and can feel so emotionally disrupted. This is because the adaptive capacities are so severely assaulted with the shock that the ability to cope becomes critically FB_IMG_1446291487330injured and functioning can be seriously impaired.

If you have experienced this sudden and unexpected grief then you have probably suffered the extreme feelings of bewilderment, anxiety, regrets and that complete sadness that leaves you wanting to stay within the safety of the home. There is no time to prepare and no time to gradually absorb the reality that the world you knew and loved is about to change into unfamiliar territory.

Like in all deaths you are left to face a massive gap between the way the world should be and the way the world is going to be without the person who has died physically in your plans. There is a major violation of expectations and the sense of safety in the world and control is assaulted.

Because you have not had any time to prepare for the death the brain struggles to find understandable context and you are left to deal with the lack of anticipation.  In order to manage you may find yourself looking back at the time leading up to the death and trying to reconstruct events in your mind to try and allow for some predictability or warning. This retrospective construction of events is the brain trying to make the situation more manageable by trying to map a perception of logical progression of control and retrospectively providing you with that preparation.

For those grieving a sudden loss the physical and emotional shock can feel so intense and long-lasting. Combined with a drastically altered world you may feel your sense of coping with life is further impacted as you try to understand what has happened to you, the person that has died and your ever intense feelings of loss and grief.



What Does Grief Feel Like?

IMG_154479189616531Each person reacts differently to loss. This doesn’t mean some people are stronger and some weaker – only that each of us is an individual.

Grief is an uneven process, like a rollercoaster or a stormy sea. It may seem like it will have no end point, however over time and with support, we can learn to live and manage our grief.

Although your life may not be exactly the same after a significant loss, the intensity of the feelings can lessen…..that is our hope and what we offer at Aim for Hope Counselling.