Celebrate what you can, not what you cannot

Celebrate what you can, not what you cannot

When someone you care about has died, how to deal with all the firsts is daunting and high on that list of firsts is Christmas.  People often think of Christmas as a time for families, friends, celebrations and traditions.  How can it ever be the same when someone you care about has died?  And it’s not just the first Christmas that people find difficult.  How to celebrate Christmas brings up many questions.  Here are a few things that may help you cope this Christmas.

There is no right or wrong way

This is true of how you grieve and of how you choose to mark anniversaries such as Christmas.  How people experience loss is unique to them, yet it is often linked with expectations of what you and others “should” do or feel.    Making assumption and not being open about your needs and feelings can be the cause of conflict and upset. To avoid this, talk about things and be sensitive to others, as you find a new and maybe different way to get through the holiday period.

Make a plan

Uncertainty makes people anxious, so think about if and how you want to celebrate Christmas and make a plan.  You may choose to do it just as you have before or you may cancel it all together.  Talk with everyone involved and plan for what you would like to happen.  As with any plan it’s important to be flexible however, as things may come up that you did not anticipate and you may need to adjust for last minute changes or someone just needing to take some time for themselves when they feel upset or overwhelmed.

Making Memories

While people don’t want to forget the person who has died they find remembering painful, so it can feel easier not to have their photo or do what the you always used to do.  But finding ways to include your loved one in the Christmas celebrations can be an opportunity to recall happy and comforting memories.  There are different ways to do this, for example, hang special mementoes or a photo of them on the Christmas tree; write a letter or poem about them or to them; burn a special candle for them etc.

Take care of yourself

Grieving is tiring.  Think about how you can make things easier for yourself.  Let go of those expectations (yours and others).  Try to avoid managing your emotions with too much alcohol and food; get enough sleep and take time to get some exercise – maybe a walk in the fresh air after Christmas lunch.

It’s OK to ask for help

This is where the “shoulds” can creep back in – I should be able to cope on my own, people should know how I feel and what I need…  But neither of these is necessarily true.  People can’t see how you feel if you don’t tell them.  We often don’t want to burden friends and family.  Consider instead that by being open about how you feel, you may be giving them a chance to share how they feel and you can support each other. Saying what you want is not selfish.  Talk about it and ask other people what they want.  You may not be able to keep everyone happy – but there is usually a compromise.

If you don’t have friends and family then look for other places where you can get support:  organisations like Cruse Bereavement Care, the Samaritans, Widowed and Young and many more.  Some of these organisations will have online forums or Facebook pages so you can make contact with someone in the wee small hours when it feels like everyone else is sleeping soundly.

Even if you try to make Christmas the same as it always has been, it is bound to feel different, but it doesn’t have to be a complete write-off – a phrase that some find useful is to remember to “celebrate what you can, not what you cannot”.

A is for Anxiety

A is for Anxiety

Feeling anxious is typically a response to an anticipated threat or fear of something going wrong. It’s not always a bad thing as it often alerts or warns us about potential harm.   We all have every-day anxieties: worries about paying bills, exams, health concerns, relationship problems, public speaking… When this anxiety becomes persistent or overwhelming and starts to impact your ability to do everyday tasks, then it may be time to pay more attention.

This kind of longer-term anxiety can be referred to as an anxiety disorder and can cover a range of problems including, general, social or performance anxiety, panic attacks, obsessive compulsive disorder etc. Collectively anxiety and depression are the most common mental health problems that people seek help for today.

In the 2013 UK Wellbeing Survey, nearly 1 in 5 people in the UK aged 16 and older showed symptoms of anxiety or depression. There were 8.2 million cases of anxiety disorder and women are almost twice as likely as men to be diagnosed with anxiety disorders.

What does anxiety feel like and why?

You may have heard of the fight or flight response. This is a normal response to danger or threat. Today it is much more likely to be triggered by more subtle triggers and internal threats in the form of worries e.g. when we feel anxious about a job interview or exam…

Our bodies react in the same way as they did when faced with a Sabre Toothed Tiger; so that we are ready to either fight or run away. This can cause:

  • Your heart rate and breathing to get faster
  • You to think less and react more instinctively
  • Difficulty in concentrating
  • Your muscles to tense for action
  • Increased sweating to speed heat loss
  • An increase of adrenalin to fuel your response
  • Or you may freeze and not be able to respond
  • You may feel sick, your stomach can churn and your bowels feel loser
  • Your mouth goes dry

In the longer term anxiety leads to irritability, disrupted sleep, headaches, difficulty focusing at work and you can lose confidence.

How to overcome anxiety

There are a number of things you can do to help yourself managing and overcome your anxiety – both physical and mindset changes.

1 Get to know your anxiety

You may know specifically what it is that causes your anxiety – like fear of flying. Sometimes it can be more generalised, in which case it’s helpful to build up a picture of situations, times, people, places etc. that relate to when you get anxious. It is usually not the situation itself that makes people anxious but the thoughts they have about what may happen in that situation. These thoughts are not always based on fact so recording your thoughts can also be helpful to identifying underlying beliefs that are feeding your anxiety.

2 Don’t avoid it

When you fear something your instinct is often to avoid doing it. How many times have you heard people (or maybe you) say “I could never speak in public”, or “I can’t get on a plane”?   And then do everything they can to ensure that they don’t put themselves in that situation. The problem with avoiding what you are afraid of is that you miss out on opportunities or things in life that you might enjoy.

To borrow the title of Susan Jeffers book, you need to “feel the fear and do it anyway”. You can never overcome your anxiety if you don’t face it: rather, it’s about building a tolerance and seeing that you can “survive” and be OK with being anxious or fearful. So start small and test yourself – like doing an experiment. If you are anxious about flying maybe the first step is to go to the airport and look at planes taking off and landing. If this seems too big a step, watch a film that includes flying. (Not a disaster movie though!)

Like any experiment, you need to observe and record the results. So while watching the planes notice your breathing and heart rate; how did you feel; what were you thinking? If you feel like walking away; reassure yourself you will be OK. It can help to set a time limit, e.g. I will just watch for 1 minute and then I can walk away. Again notice what happens and next time, try it for a bit longer. Building up a tolerance means sitting with it not avoiding it.

3 Relax

People with anxiety difficulties are often so tense throughout the day that they find it hard to recognise what being relaxed feels like. Relaxation has both emotional and physical benefits and there are lots of different ways to relax, so find one that suits you and that you can practice regularly.

For example, progressive muscle relaxation is a technique where you systematically tense particular muscle groups in your body e.g. your neck then your shoulders. Then you release the tension and notice how your muscles feel when they are relaxed. Over time you will start to recognise the difference in how it feels when your muscles are tensed and relaxed, and can put yourself in this relaxed state when you notice the tension and anxiety building.

Alternatively you might try deep and controlled breathing, visualising a favourite place where you can feel relaxed, yoga or meditation.

4 Take good care of yourself

It is important to look after your physical well-being to support your emotional well-being. Your mind and body are connected and one can affect the other, either positively or negatively. Eat a healthy balanced diet and avoid too much caffeine and alcohol as these can increase anxiety. Sleep is important as it gives your body time to repair and it helps your thinking or cognitive function, and general all-round health. But this may not be easy as anxiety can also disrupt some people’s sleep patterns as their mind is whirring with all their anxious thoughts. It can also be helpful to Increase the amount of exercise you do as it can take your mind off your fear and anxiety.

5 It’s OK to ask for help

While there is a lot you can do help yourself to manage your anxiety, sometimes it helps to work this through with someone else. Counselling and cognitive behavioural techniques can be very effective for people with anxiety problems. You can talk to your GP about how to find a local practitioner or visit sites such as the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP).

If you would like to know more about how we can help, contact Thames Counselling at www.thamescounselling.com.

What do I say?

What do I say?

It’s a question people often ask when someone they know is grieving the death of someone close to them. The simple answer is; you don’t have to say anything – or at least not as much as you might think you do. When someone has lost someone, they may want to talk about them and all you have to do is listen.

Here is a list of Do’s and Don’ts from Cruse Bereavement Care, the leading national charity for UK bereaved people in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.


  • Be there for the person who is grieving – pick up the phone, write a letter or an email, call by or arrange to visit.
  • Accept that everyone grieves in their own way; there is no ‘normal’ way.
  • Encourage the person to talk.
  • Listen to the person.
  • Create an environment in which the bereaved person can be themselves and show their feelings, rather than having to put on a front.
  • Be aware that grief can take a long time.
  • Contact the person at difficult times such as special anniversaries and birthdays.
  • Mention useful support agencies such as Cruse.
  • Offer useful practical help.


  • Avoid someone who has been bereaved.
  • Use clichés such as ‘I understand how you feel’; ‘You’ll get over it; ‘Time heals’.
  • Tell them it’s time to move on, they should be over it – how long a person needs to grieve is entirely individual.
  • Be alarmed if the bereaved person doesn’t want to talk or demonstrates anger.
  • Underestimate how emotionally draining it can be when supporting a grieving person. Make sure you take care of yourself too.

For more information visit www.cruse.org.uk

7 reasons why it’s good to talk in a group

7 reasons why it’s good to talk in a group

Talking therapies typically are experienced one-to-one with a counsellor or as part of a group. Both can be equally effective but offer a different experience. Some groups will focus on a specific problem, such as social anxiety, stress or bereavement.   Others may focus on helping people develop social skills, such as anger management, developing self esteem etc.

The thought of talking in a group of strangers may seem daunting to many people, but being part of a group of people with similar problems can provide benefits that individual therapy does not. For example:

  1. The group can provide a support network
  2. Hearing others talk about similar experiences can “normalise” your experience and help you feel less isolated
  3. You can hear how others have found solutions or coping strategies
  4. It’s helpful (and hope-full) to see people who are further down the road in their journey
  5. Sharing your experiences provides support and perspective for others
  6. The group can hold you accountable for your actions as you make positive changes in your life
  7. Most groups are a diverse collection of people with different backgrounds and personalities, and this can give you perspectives and solutions that you may not find on your own.

The majority of mental health problems or other issues that bring people to therapy are about or impact on how you relate to other people.  Being part of a group can be an ideal environment for you to actually see and work on how these issues play out in a group.