By Jan Engoren

It’s “the most wonderful time of the year,” but not for everyone.

While many people look forward to the holidays, for some the season brings up feelings of loneliness, dread, stress or sadness. Maybe you are single or without family nearby, or have experienced a recent loss of a loved one.

While others are making travel arrangements, partying, buying gifts or swapping cookie recipes, you may be struggling to get through the season without feeling sad, isolated or alone.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, holiday blues are temporary feelings of anxiety or depression that can be associated with extra stress, unrealistic expectations or even memories that accompany the season.

Symptoms often begin in November and last until the start of the new year. A NAMI study showed that 64% of people with mental illness report holidays make their conditions worse.

Losing a loved one, especially a child, is never easy and the loss may be compounded during family holidays. This is the case for two families who share the premature loss of a loved one.

For part-time Fort Myers resident Suzanne Zafonte Sennett, who lost her son, Andrew, a talented musician and artist, in 2009 just before his 21st birthday during the Christmas season, the loss is especially acute.

He was celebrating a friend’s 21st birthday and, after mixing drugs and alcohol, he crawled into a friend’s bed to sleep and never woke up.

Suzanne and her husband, Peter, had plans to celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary that January. Andrew and his sister, Brigid, were to act as witnesses at a vow renewal ceremony.

“Over the next years — the Christmas tree and decorations were mothballed,” she recalls. “We found ways to muddle through.”

It wasn’t until the birth of her first granddaughter in 2014, and later a second, that they began to feel joy and celebrate the holidays again.

“All of the old ornaments — with pictures of both my kids — hang alongside photos of my grandkids,” she says. “We have learned to allow our sadness to be intermingled with joy.”

Focus on helping others
John and Michelle Makris of Boca Raton have also learned that lesson.

They lost their son Brice in 2020 at the age of 23 to an accidental fentanyl overdose.

“We live with anticipation, but our grief is every day,” Michelle Makris says. They have found joy through their 2-year-old grandson who lives in Seattle, but “we always feel Brice’s presence.”

She has learned to give herself permission to feel loss, grief and sadness and to indulge in what she calls “Glamour magazine therapy,” or to indulge in regular massages, practice meditation and to be tended to.

To honor their son’s memory, they host an annual brunch each December to raise money for the Brice Makris Endowment Fund, which provides scholarships and addiction prevention programs at the Hanley Foundation in West Palm Beach. This year’s brunch is Dec. 10 at Boca West Country Club.

A focus on helping others helps the couple deal with feeling powerless over their loss, says Michelle Makris.

Celebrating both Jewish and Catholic traditions, for this holiday they plan to invite family and friends for the traditional Feast of the Seven Fishes on Christmas Eve and will light the

Hanukkah menorah and say the blessing each night.

“We know Brice would want us to be happy,” John Makris says.

The couple have created a circle of strength, love and “warm feelings” with their support network.

“The best thing I can say is to be authentic, reach out if you need help and know that your friends want to be of service,” Michelle Makris says.

Stay in the moment
Tips for self-care during the holidays include getting enough sleep, taking time for yourself and spending time with supportive, caring friends or family.

Minimize excess food, alcohol or spending, get some exercise and set reasonable expectations for your holiday activities.

Set aside time to relax, meet with friends, write in a journal, do yoga, sing, dance or laugh, take a walk or plan something else you like to do.

12304790293?profile=RESIZE_180x180Alli Jimenez, 36, a mental health counselor at the Hanley Foundation and mother of four in a blended family, says “holidays can bring up difficult feelings.”

She notes that blended families have to deal with differing traditions and separate visits such as splitting the holidays between parents.

She plans to have family and friends over for a low-key Christmas dinner and to enjoy it without feeling stressed.

“Family dynamics have changed a lot,” she says. “We don’t often talk about how this affects families.”

To cope with these stressors, Jimenez suggests staying in the moment.

“Be mindful of the good in your life, and what you do have,” she says. “Pause and reflect on the good and show grace and a bit of kindness to yourself and others.”

Jan Engoren writes about health and healthy living. Send column ideas to jengoren@hotmail.com.

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