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Here come the Holidays. For some Carmel Valley San Diego community members, this is a favorite time of the year, but for others, just the opposite. The concept of “loss” seems to be a consistent element here which makes the Holidays not so joyous for some, especially if they experienced a loss or misfortune some time over this past year. The loss of a loved one, a divorce, or a significant change in one’s health, school, or occupational status can cause feelings of shock, despair, sadness, or even depression. For any individual going through one of these possible conditions, the festivities of the season may intensify strong uncomfortable feelings. For these individuals, spending time with loved ones, friends, and trying to find activities to help them feel better are important, but not typically initiated by the individual for they feel so terrible.
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This is where the role of close friends can save lives. But, most friends are uncertain as how to best help that friend in need. For most people, young and old, going through a rough patch with the warmth of a friend can be very comforting and helpful. Inviting a friend in need over for a holiday celebration, trying to spend some special time together, and even buying them a special and meaningful gift can help someone in need cope better with a recent setback.
What about getting them to talk to you? Well, that depends. It is important to consider that children and adults are in different developmental and psychological states and will manage losses differently. Although the feelings are the same, the capacity to tolerate those feelings are different. Understandably, adults are more mature and typically will be able to talk about their feelings more readily, while children experiencing loss are usually trying to forget about the issue in order to continue to cope. In other words, it will take children much longer to talk about their loss experiences than adults and kids should NOT be pushed to do so. They will open up when ready as long as they are in a supportive and loving environment.
Once the door of communication is open however, here is what to do. Be sympathetic and listen non-judgmentally to your friend. Be supportive and encouraging. Offer to help them if they need the help but, make them do it if they can. Spend time with them and, if appropriate, include them in your Holiday plans but don’t push it. Don’t let them over drink. This will only make them depressed. Expect inconsistencies in your friend’s thoughts and feelings. Confusion, memory problems, mood swings, irritability, sadness, crying, anger, and even laughter are all expected from friend who has a loss reaction during the holidays.
Finally, their loss might bring up your experience of losses as well. This may be sad, but it further allows you to be more mentally present for your friend in need. Always remember, the Holidays are about love, family, and friends.
Dr. Keith Kanner is a Licensed and Board Certified Clinical Child, Adolescent, and Adult Psychologist and Psychoanalyst. In addition to running a full-time private practice, he is an Assistant Clinical Professor of Psychiatry in the School of Medicine at the University of California San Diego where he teaches both human development and also trains medical students how to better understand and relate to their patients. He also serves as the Director of Clinical Counseling for La Jolla Country Day School in La Jolla, California, and is a Clinical Professor at The San Diego Psychoanalytic Society and Institute. Dr. Kanner also sits on the National Board of Directors for Kids Korps USA, which is the largest organization in the country that teaches children and adolescents the importance of volunteering to help the community at large. As a father of three children, he is also a dedicated baseball, football, and soccer coach.