Christmas is not always a happy time for all

Unhappy holidays

It’s not always happy holidays.

With the holiday season upon us, it’s important to recognize this can be a hard time of year for those who are grieving.

Grief is love with no place to go. As grief expert, Alan Wolfelt shared, grief is both a necessity and a privilege. We experience grief because we have loved. It’s a challenging part of being human.

Grief is a messy and unpredictable process. It has no set course, and no certain end-date. It shows up in surprising ways. We may try and fake it through the holidays, but our feelings of grief and sadness may increase, leaking out all over the place.

Once meaningful traditions feel painful and only serve to remind us of who’s missing, amplifying feelings of sorrow. This is true for the holiday season, or any other significant days such as birthdays or anniversaries, when grief is involved.

We can feel more alone, and may want to avoid everything festive. Sadness deepens and the sense of isolation may increase. Friends become awkward, not knowing how to help. We may want to cancel the whole thing, and just survive the season. Just surviving is okay.

What to do? How can we support ourselves or others who are grieving at this time of year?

While there are no simple answers, there are some helpful things to do.

• Acknowledge feelings of grief and talk about them.

• Allow yourself to feel your emotions. They may be a mixed-bag, but feel them without judgment.

• Remember to breathe.

• Connect with understanding, supportive people who care.

• Let others know what you need and how they can support you.

• Set healthy boundaries. Avoid isolation but don’t over-schedule. It’s about balance.

• Grief can be exhausting. Respect the limits of your body and mind, lower your expectations of what you’re able to do.

• We can’t shame or “should” ourselves out of our grief. Be compassionate and understanding with yourself.

• Plan ahead. Discuss plans with others and let them know of changes to what’s happening.

• Talk about the person who has died. Don’t be afraid to mention their name.

• Treasure precious memories and share them with family and trusted friends.

• Create new traditions. Decide which traditions you want to change and which ones you want to keep.

• Find a way to honour your memories.

• Take an inventory of the good and positive things in your life.

• Extend kindness to others. It makes us feel better.

• Connect with your faith and express it.

• It’s okay to enjoy the season, and to celebrate.

• Seek professional help.

Everyone grieves differently, and sharing your experience of grief with those close to you creates connections. Remember, grief has many different faces and may not just present as an emotion of sadness. Grief may show up as remoteness, guilt, anxiety, irritability, and anger, it affects our ability to think and remember.

When someone we love is grieving, it’s important we don’t take their withdrawal, or need to change traditions, personally. They’re just trying to get through. Offering understanding support, and encouraging them to participate at the level of their own comfort is helpful.

Grief is uncomfortable and we can feel powerless to help, so we may want to avoid the topic all together. All of the platitudes in the world won’t help and often add insult to injury. There are no phrases we can use to magically remove their pain.

Check in with friends who are grieving. Don’t be afraid to ask them how they’re doing. Avoiding the topic for fear of reminding them of their loss is like pretending there’s no elephant in the room. Accepting their feelings, and just listening to them and validating their feelings is so important.

The biggest gift we have to offer is our caring, non-judgmental presence. I choose to remember grief specialist, Clair Jantzen’s advice: Just show up, shut up, and listen. See what they need, and then do that.

My heart is around all who are grieving as we enter this holiday season.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.


Remember to breathe when staring at computer screens

Take a breath

Do me a favour right now; take a breath, a deep breath.

Remembering to take a breath is needed more today than in days gone by.

A day in front of a computer or device feels exhausting and often leaves us cranky. Sorting through the daily deluge of emails, texts, and messages, working in front of a screen—the technology rabbit-hole—takes our breath away, literally. Science is revealing the reasons, and simple fixes to the challenge. With increasing numbers of people spending seven or more hours in front of a computer screen every day, learning how to support ourselves is important.

Recent changes in my life have required spending more time in front of my computer screen. I’ve noticed I’m feeling increased tiredness and irritability than seems unreasonable for the work at hand. I grew curious, and found a simple fix to my dilemma—remembering to breathe.

I’ve long known about sleep apnea, the cessation of breathing during sleep, but until recently, I had never heard about email or screen apnea, the tendency to hold our breath as we’re working in front of a screen. According to writer and researcher, Linda Stone, 80% of people experience screen-apnea while working in front of a device. And it comes with a cost.

Email or screen apnea, according to Stone, is “a temporary absence or suspension of breathing, or shallow breathing, while doing email.” The brain instinctively shuts-off certain subconscious activities, such as awareness of hunger and temperature, as well as breathing, during times of focus, allowing the brain to divert its energy and resources.

Holding our breath activates the stress-response, reducing our ability to think and perceive clearly and make good decisions. We tend to feel more reactive and irritable. Also called “apnea-lite,” it increases our risk of elevated blood pressure, stroke and heart attack. The stress-chemical cortisol is also increased, predisposing us to diabetes. We’re doing this for increasing hours a day.

A slumped posture as we work only adds to the mix, compromising our ability to breathe deeply and oxygenate our lungs and body fully as we sit. Our eyes become fatigued and strained as we maintain our gaze at the same distance, and blink less often as we focus on the screen. There’s even a name for this, “computer vision syndrome,” resulting in eye-strain, headaches, eye-twitching, as well as back, neck, and shoulder strain.

Awareness is curative and the fix is simple. Learning to notice our posture and tendency to hold our breath, and remembering to take deep breaths periodically is helpful. Setting a timer helps provide a reminder. Close and soften the eyes, and be sure to change the distance at which you’re focussing from time-to-time. Taking time to gaze out the window or at something in the distance helps to relax our eyes.

Take breaks regularly, and don’t skip them. Get up and walk away from your device. Remember to breathe and not simply flipping to a personal app during our break-times is vital. Soften your shoulders Takea moment to stretch and breathe deeply. These practices make us more efficient and mindful than pushing through does.

And, if we have “that person” whose name appearing in our in-box creates stress or tension, remember to pause and breathe deeply a few times before opening it. Not only will you perceive more clearly, but you’ll be better equipped to respond instead of react to challenging messages.

Mr. Miyagi of the Karate Kid movies had sage advice, “When you feel life is out of focus, always return to the basics of life. Breathing. No breath, no life.”

Remember to breathe.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

It turns out, multi-tasking is not good for us

Dividing our attention

What are we doing to ourselves?

It’s hard to believe any of us would actively participate in reducing our intelligence and ability or harming our relationships, but many of us are, unwittingly.

If we pride ourselves on the ability to multi-task, feeling we’re more efficient, we are wrong. Divided-mind, ignored intelligence, and technoference, are a few of the terms used to describe the effects of chronic multi-tasking. Then there’s internet addiction disorder, found in people who spend 40-hours weekly with technology. Our love-affair with it all comes at great cost.

One researcher cautioned we’re turning our brain’s grey-matter into mush because of living in a state of perpetual distraction. It sounds like a self-induced lobotomy to me. It’s time we pay attention to the very real effects of our technology habits.

Many of us pride ourselves on our ability to multitask, holding and juggling many balls in the air at the same time. It’s a badge of honour for many. Email made this problematic and our hand-held devices and smart watches, with instant messaging and pop-ups, have made it even worse.

While we may pride ourselves on our multi-tasking ability, researchers tell us, we’re probably not as good at it as we think we are, and we’re fooling ourselves. Whether it’s doing two things at once, quickly switching back-and-forth between a few jobs or doing many tasks in quick succession, the belief that multi-tasking saves time and makes us more efficient is a myth.

Our brains aren’t made to work that way and it might be hurting us more than helping. While modern computers are designed to have multiple browser windows open, our brains are not.

What we’ve come to believe as multi-tasking isn’t really that at all. What we’re doing is quickly switching between several tasks and in doing so, not only does our work suffer but so does our health and happiness.

Converging evidence finds multi-tasking:

• Increases depression and social anxiety

• Reduces our productivity. It takes longer to complete tasks by as much as 40%

• Reduces our cognitive ability, reducing our IQ by 10% to 15%

• Makes us more prone to errors

• Makes it harder to filter out distractions and irrelevant information

• Inhibits our ability to remember what we’ve done or learned

• Worsens our memory as we grow older

• Reduces creativity and problem-solving

• Creates inattention blindness; we don’t notice what’s happening in the moment

• Increases the stress response in our bodies

• Increases accidents walking and driving, leading to physical injury

• Reduces relationship satisfaction

It may feel like we’re getting more done but we’re not. We’re developing bad brain-habits. Studies reveal multitasking causes our IQ to fall to levels similar to a person who’s sleep deprived or has smoked marijuana. Yikes!

Multi-tasking is exhausting and it activates the stress response in our bodies, causing increases in the production of the stress hormone cortisol, which over time, has harmful implications for our health. It can easily lead to mistakes, causing us additional stress.

Quickly checking things off our to-do list feels good because we get a hit of dopamine for completing a task. But many of those quick things we complete aren’t helping us accomplish the big things requiring our full attention.

Researchers at Stanford University found heavy multi-taskers were less mentally organized, and these effects lingered even when they weren’t multi-tasking.

Relationships suffer from distracted attention, termed technoference by researchers. Partners of multi-taskers feel reduced relationship satisfaction when another’s device sits ready for the next beck-and-call of a pop-up or alert.

Multi-tasking during meals can cause us to over-eat. I recall a mindfulness student who was horrified at the thought of eating her meal without the distraction of technology. To her, it just wasn’t efficient to simply enjoy a meal. Using meal time as an opportunity to check our inbox or social media easily leads to over-eating and we miss out on the pleasure-benefits of noticing our food.

As the pace of life and demands increase, the modern tendency is to try and cram it all in simultaneously. It’s easy to get sucked into the vortex and feel spit-out at the end of the day.

Technology is wonderful, but the immediacy demands created by the way we live life keeps us on high alert. The constant notifications of emails and texts arriving are distractions.

It’s easy to get hooked on the feeling multi-tasking brings. It’s addictive and makes us want more. The hits of adrenaline and dopamine can become addictive, even though they’re not good for us in the long run. It can cost us our health and prevent us from using all of our intelligence and creativity.

Creating habits to assist ourselves in becoming more focused, truly productive and creative can be as simple as creating a schedule for checking emails, turning off text notifications, and avoiding the use of multiple devices at one time, such as watching TV and checking our phone. Mindfulness practices are helpful.

Making it a habit to pause, breathe and stretch between tasks allows our brains to make the switch. These simple practices support our health, our happiness, and our intelligence.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.


Important to take time to grieve

Good grief

We love to put things into nice and neat boxes.

Grief is one of those things that just doesn’t fit in one. Grief has some surprising and confusing faces, leaving us feeling alone and confused. I love speaking about grief, and I’m finding people are grateful to learn about this very human experience.

We grieve for many reasons and not only when someone dies. Loss of any kind—a relationship, job, self-image, health status, security or a dream —can cause us to grieve. I’m curious if much of the anger and aggression prevalent in today’s world stems from grief arising from the many loses experienced societally during the pandemic.

November is grief awareness month for the Canadian Hospice and Palliative Care Association, culminating with National Grief and Bereavement Day on Nov. 15.

Through volunteering with Central Okanagan Hospice Association, and working as a palliative-care nurse and minister, I’ve learned the more understanding we have about grief, the better support we are for ourselves and others.

While we all experience many losses in life causing us to grieve, the grief process often remains a mystery. Learning about grief and how it presents is so helpful. When some of the lesser-known faces of grief show up, it can be confusing, isolating and frightening. Fear only adds complexity.

There’s no prescribed, predictable path of grief. It’s not a neat-and-tidy sequential process. Grief often hits us out of the blue, taking us by surprise. It doesn’t have a predictable time-line and it’s unique to each person, experienced differently each time we experience a loss.

Grief isn’t just an emotion of sadness, and it affects us on every level: physical, mental, and emotional.

Physically, grief may present as:

• Poor appetite

• Digestive issues

• Breathing challenges, feels like a weight on our chest

• Sleep challenges

• Shakiness

• Exhaustion; grief takes a huge amount of our energy.

As a nurse, I caution people to see their physician if those symptoms persist.

Mentally, grief can cause:

• Inability to concentrate

• Poor memory

• Impaired decision-making

When my dad died, I couldn’t remember how to log into a computer I’d used thousands of times or turn on my stove. It was scary and frustrating. I’ve met many grieving people who’re afraid they’re losing their minds. They are not, they’re just grieving.

Sadness isn’t the only emotion felt after a loss. Emotionally, grief may appear as:

• Numbness, feeling remote and detached

• Guilt

• Blame

• Mood swings

• Anger and irritability.

I’ve seen families blown apart when grief shows up as anger. Just when we need to come together and support one another, people feel isolated and alone. When anger’s felt toward a loved one who passed, guilt may arise. Guilt only complicates matters.

These lists of some of the many faces of grief are not comprehensive, but offer information showing it’s not a predictable, cookie-cutter process. It’s often messy and unpredictable and we need support.

Cultures in which grieving folks wear certain attire for periods of time after a loss may be on to something. Space is made for them in their process and they’re held in understanding and compassion.

Following a loss it’s best, if possible, to put off making major decisions until the ability to think more clearly returns. Be patient with yourself and one another. Even people close to us can feel awkward and avoid contact. They don’t know what to say or do to help, so they may stay away or offer empty, sometimes annoying platitudes. That can lead to loneliness, disappointment and fractured relationships.

Each person has different needs as they grieve. Let people know what you need and how they can help. People often want to help but are unsure of what they can do. They can’t fix what’s happened but they can be present. Helpful presence is a gift.

Eat, sleep and exercise as best you can. We love to stay busy to avoid our painful feelings. In this busy world with so many demands, don’t overbook yourself, and allow some flexibility in your routine, and let others help you. Finding a balance between being social and taking time for yourself is important.

If you need to cry, then allow yourself this release with no need to apologize. And, when those big, hard feelings come upon you like a wave, remember to breathe and be present with yourself.

Even though grief is not a sexy topic of conversation, I’m finding people want to learn about it and talk about it. I see them visibly relax as they learn they are normal in their grief, whatever normal is.

We are truly blessed within Kelowna to have the Central Okanagan Hospice Association. I can’t say enough about the good it does in our community. It offers programs and support for people needing support with grief.

No one should have to die or grieve alone. Please know help is available.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

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About the Author

Corinne is first a wife, mother, and grandmother, whose eclectic background has created a rich alchemy that serves to inform her perspectives on life.

An assistant minister at the Centre for Spiritual Living Kelowna, she is a retired nurse with a master’s degree in health science and is a hospice volunteer.  She is also an adjunct professor with the school of nursing  at UBC Okanagan and currently spends her time teaching smartUBC, a unique mindfulness program offered at UBC, to the public. 

She is a speaker and presenter and from her diverse experience and knowledge, both personally and professionally, she has developed an extraordinary passion for helping people gain a new perspective, awaken and recognize we do not have to be a slave to our thoughts, stress or to life. We are always at a point of change.

Through this column, Corinne blends her insights and research to provide food for the mind and the heart, to encourage an awakening of the power and potential within everyone.

Corinne lives in Kelowna with her husband of 44 years and can be reached at [email protected].

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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