Stress is a normal part of life and is most often associated with adapting to change. Some adaptations are healthy choices we make to support a life of love and inner peace, such as finding comfort and support in good friends and loving relationships. Other adaptations are based on unhealthy choices that bring only temporary relief from pain, such as smoking, excessive drinking or gambling.

Choice is both a burden and a blessing, and all choices have consequences. Making important life choices can be enlightening as you reach a deeper understanding of your heart, your soul and yourself. When you consciously choose to engage in gratitude and forgiveness it attunes you to the voice of your heart.

What choices will we make during the holidays if we bear a broken heart, an angry resentment, or the memory of a tragic life experience that has forever changed our world? How can we cope with emotions such as sadness, anger, despair and a deep sense of loss? Because we are whole human beings, managing stress and loss during the holidays takes more than simply caring for the body, as important as that is. It is also takes attending to our spiritual and emotional needs in order to find lasting solutions, ongoing inspiration and a deep well of hope to sustain us.

Help is available by working with our health care providers who are able to offer medications to relieve some of the emotional and physical pain of our losses; they can also make referrals to other helping professionals such as life coaches, psychotherapists, yoga instructors, as well as to meditation and journal writing classes and other healing modalities in our community.

The personal meaning that we give to the holidays is highly individual and unique and is influenced by past experiences. Have they previously been times of sentimental sharing with loved ones, or have they been associated with disappointments or feelings of loneliness? Is this year the first year after a significant loss? It’s up to each of us to decide how we want the holidays to serve us – as opportunities for happiness and gratitude, or as occasions to succumb to our anger, sorrow and fears. It is our choice.

If we choose to face the holidays with gratitude and appreciation, we will need to make plans and prepare for them as if we were preparing to go on a trip:

1. Accept the reality of our loss and treat the past with respect – accept what has ended and honor it by talking about our feelings with trusted friends and allies, or with caring professionals trained in listening without judgment. Find ways to honor the past in tangible actions – light a candle each day for a month leading up to the holiday in honor of the person we have lost; read his or her favorite passage from a book to inspire and comfort ourselves; prepare our loved one’s favorite meal and invite close friends over to recall favorite stories and memories while we share the pleasures of the meal.

2. Expect and accept the stages of grieving – denial, anger, bargaining, sadness, fear, confusion and depression. Each person goes through grief in a unique way – not everyone feels all of these feelings intensely and some people don’t go through the process in an orderly progression. Give yourself the emotional support you need, seek and find information that can help reduce confusion, and, most of all, be kind to yourself. Act as your own best friend. Being gentle and tolerant of your needs is a gift that will strengthen you as you grieve.

3. Invite others to share in your holiday gatherings who genuinely want to spend time with you and who will support your holiday plans with understanding and love. If they have a sense of humor that can be very helpful, too, because being able to laugh is as important as being able to cry. Both can lead to tears and tears are natural healing agents that balance the body’s biochemistry.

4. Create new ceremonies and rituals to incorporate into your holidays. Take a piece of the old with you by creating a book of memories or poems that symbolize what you cherish from the past and then make a ritual of reading it as part of a new celebration. Let your imagination help mend your heart by connecting you with your inner wisdom and creating new holiday traditions.

Forgive yourself and free yourself from blaming other people or judging them. Move beyond these things and take your personal power back. Begin cultivating a habit of knowing that life is here for you and you have the power to move on. Your eternal spirit has always been with you and it is here with you now. Relax and let go. Relax and trust life and trust yourself. Breathe.