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Stroke Smart Magazine

November/December 2008

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Television commercials and movie specials tend to present the holiday experience as one of near-perfect happiness. What happens when your own experiences don’t measure up? You may get the holiday blues.

Holidays are times that lead us to reflect on our lives and situations. As a stroke survivor, you may be experiencing life in new ways. You may not be able to do things you used to do. You may no longer recall important family memories. You may not be able to fully participate in holiday traditions. In addition, the stroke may have caused subtle changes to the part of the brain that processes emotional reactions. All of this can cause brief feelings of depression.

If you find yourself struggling with post-stroke holiday blues, these strategies may help you cope.

1. Don’t expect the holiday blues. Expectations can shape your thinking and cause you to focus on normal negative feelings that occur naturally in all of us.

2. Instead of thinking about what you cannot do, celebrate what you can. Remember that you survived something profound and difficult, with grace, strength, and courage.

3. When you are feeling blue, do not shove the feelings aside and simply power on through. Sometimes, this is a useful approach, but more often, it leads to emotional pressure building over time. Let yourself feel blue. Try to understand why you feel that way.

4. Spend 15 minutes alone before each holiday get together to reflect on what you’re feeling that day. Take time to think about what you’ve come through. Acknowledge your fears. Think about the love and support you have around you. Think about how you might fill any empty spaces or voids in your life.

5. Holidays are times of ritual and tradition: lighting the menorah, trimming the tree, decorating the house. When we feel so different, we sometimes find that the old rituals don’t seem to capture the feelings of our new life after stroke. If this occurs, think of new rituals to bring into the holiday to focus and help process your feelings. Develop a private moment of reflection you can build on every year from now on. For example, you may light a candle or write a blessing to honor the people who have touched you. Or go out and get yourself a new, personal symbol it could be something as small as an ornament something that you can invest with memory and emotions and respect and trust and comfort about your life now after stroke. Something that helps you organize your feelings in a private and special way every time you see it in your home.

There is no magic about coping, with the holidays or with life no specific technique or intervention that’s going to work perfectly or in the same way for everyone. The key to good holidays is true living. It is finding moments of love and tenderness even when things seem difficult or imperfect. It means living our lives in ways more profound and real than any commercial could ever suggest.

Dr. Jay Schneiders is a Clinical Neuropsychologist & Health Psychologist at the Colorado Neurological Institute. A version of this article previously appeared in “Meningioma Mamas.”

My Turn

Use National Stroke Association’s discussion guide to determine how you will manage the holiday blues this year or avoid them altogether. The guide includes a list of questions to discuss at your next stroke support group meeting, with your family, or independently. Go to www.stroke.org/myturn to download the guide or call (800) STRoKES.


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National Stroke Association’s mission is to reduce the incidence and impact of stroke by developing compelling education and programs focused on prevention, treatment, rehabilitation and support for all impacted by stroke.

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