The First Christmas After A Loss

Helpful tips for people facing their first Christmas after a loss.

Are your Christmas lights up? Have you started your Christmas shopping? Have you reached your limit of Hallmark holiday movies?

Today, with the help of my grandson, our kitchen will be filled with the intoxicating aroma of two of the favorite holiday treats, sausage balls, and Martha Washington candy (recipes at the end). These are two of the extraordinary things my momma made for me as a kid, and even as recently as two years ago she made them for me and mailed them to me. While Connor and I prepared these two treats, the memory of my mom and will be very close to me as this will be my first Christmas without both of them this year.

My mom went to be with the Lord on December 2, 2016, and my Dad followed her six weeks later. Dad always told me that his mission was too out live mom so he could take care of her. He completed his task, and even though I miss both of them deeply, I choose to celebrate their lives and their legacy, while feeling the loss.

For many of us, this Christmas will be our first without a loved one, a daunting challenge that, if not monitored, could lead to a miserable holiday season.

As both a professional counselor and fellow struggler, I wanted to share a few things that might help you move through this Christmas season without feeling overwhelmed with the loss/es you may have experienced this past year.

Give yourself some time to feel the loss and grieve over the fact that that they are gone. Grieving takes time, just be careful that you don’t over-isolate.

Intentionally connect with friends, family, neighbors, and co-workers.

Find a way to help others. The Bible talks about this in 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 – “All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort. He comforts us with all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us.” NLT

Begin some new traditions.

Celebrate some old traditions, like Connor and I are doing today with our baking event.

Finally, let me invite you to read an excellent article by friend Danielle Bernock. Here are a couple of lines from this very insightful and helpful article.

Grieving is hard at any time of the year. But when it’s the season to be jolly, and you’ve suffered a loss the Ho Ho Ho feels like salt in a wound. How do you deal with the holidays when there’s a giant hole in your heart?

Cutting Down Holiday Stress


Well, we are officially off to the retail madness of the Holiday Season with yet another Black Friday followed by Cyber Monday. As I pen this post, I am having a flashback about spending three Christmases managing a Christian Gift Shop in at the Macon Mall in Macon, Georgia. At the time, I was grateful for that chapter in my life, but I am glad is in my past.

For many people, this time of year is about as exciting as being told you need a root canal immediately. There are countless individuals feels an overwhelming sense of dread, worry, anxiety, exhaustion, and isolation. If you feel like this, you could be the victim of the Christmas Blahs, the Hanukkah Malaise, Kwanza Dullness, and for my neo-pagan friends, the Solstice Slump.

If you are someone who struggles with this time of the year, I am going to give you some mood lifting, stress-busting tips which could help bring joy into your life.

Sheila Moss (www.humorcolumnist.com) has a few great lines about Christmas.

Santa is watching; please do not do anything that will embarrass him.
The commercial spirit of Christmas is a mysterious force that causes people to max out their credit cards.
You cannot string more lights than your redneck neighbor.
The harder you try to diet, the higher the likelihood you will get candy for presents.
Famous last words-“I have plenty of time left to shop before Christmas.”

A friend of mine who has been a broadcast journalist was interviewing me a few years ago and asked me to come up with Twelve Stress-Busting Tips for Christmas. The good news, he gave me two hours to come up with them. Thankfully, they were a hit, and over the years I have adjusted them to be current. I hope these thirteen tips will help you enjoy the Advent season, lighten up your stress, and help you catch your breath.

13 Tips for Cutting Down Holiday Stress

1. Shop for the significant people first.

2. Stay active, move around, see the lights, do something to break up your routine.

3. Think before you speak. Consider ruling out all conversations which involve your job, health, marriage, the past, the future, or the present. Keep it “Holiday Light.”

4. Re-read the Christmas story, go to a Christmas musical, or even visit a church. For those of you who have not been to church and feel like the roof might collapse when you walk in-I have great news; churches have particular roofing material can handle the shock of your presence.

5. Stay loose; 21st-century families seem to always shift and change.

6. Look for and pray about creative solutions from problems that might arise during the holiday season.

7. Mom and Dad-let your married kids develop their own holiday traditions.

8. Take your medication, supplements, and vitamins.

9. Limit let eating and drinking be the focus of your Holiday gatherings.

10. Buy an Advent calendar, even if you don’t have kids-it is fun to open the tabs
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11. Watch movies like The Christmas Star, or a Wonderful Life at least one time.

12. Take some time to be alone and reflect. Relax, catch a breath, smell the fragrances of the holidays.

13. Remember the “Reason for the Season.” The Gospel of Luke 2:11, “The Savior-yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! (NLT).

Would love to hear how you manage holiday stress! Please leave a comment.

Recapture Your Vision: Quit Isolating


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(c)2012 Istockphotos
Stop Isolating
By John Thurman

Reggie had struggled with his severe, recurrent depression and his ten-year battle with alcohol abuse. He consistently complained about how lonely he was but minimized how much he was drinking by himself. He tried church support groups, Alcoholics Anonymous, going to the gym with friends, but each program seemed to fail miserably. Alcohol kept him from overcoming the isolation. Reggie eventually dealt with his addiction and then he began to recover from the depression.

Isolation is the double-edged sword of depression as it is both a cause and outcome. Isolation complicates depression in some people.Individuals begin drinking, gambling online, using pornography, or beginning other addictions to treat their depression.

So how do you move out of isolation?

For people with significant depression, the mere thought of getting out of the house can seem daunting. Here is an action plan that you can begin using today.

1. Connect Intentionally

Get up and get dressed. Go outside; take a walk. Let the sun kiss your cheeks. As you walk, observe people, children, and pets.

Nod your head and say, “Hi,” on purpose. The point is not to start a conversation but to make a brief moment of connection. Stepping out of your house or apartment and intentionally speaking are two fundamental ways of changing your perception. You will see that you are not a zombie-like presence in the world.  Try this action plan daily.

2. Connect Online

Reaching out via email or some limited posting can be helpful in re-establishing contact with others. Be careful to safeguard your personal information and keep your expectations real. Start small.

3. Join a class, join a small group, or go to church.

In your community there are numerous organizations that center around a common goal. Perhaps you enjoy photography, sports, games, exercise, biking, writing, reading, poetry, animals, or genealogyThe connection with others will help relieve the pain of isolation.

4. Plan to Meet with One or More Persons.

As you connect with others, take a risk and invite one person to meet you at a local coffee shop or restaurant. When you arrive, smile, make eye contact, shake hands, and ask the person questions about his or her life. As you learn about and connect with others person, your feelings of isolation will go away.

Isolation is not your friend, but you can get trapped into being alone. Instead, embrace your responsibility to take action and push through isolation. #getagripondepression

From: Get a Grip on Depression by John Thurman pp 108-109. 

Recapture Your Vision: Push Back Depression & Negative Thinking

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(c) 2014 John Thurman – Sagebrush Hood Ornament
Recapture Your Vision by Pushing Back Depression and Negative Thinking

Have any idea what this photo is? It is actually a hood ornament with clouds and sky in the background. Your perspective can mess with your head from time to time. 

I love being an entrepreneur, it can be a bit chaotic at times, but one of the things that keep me going is vision. Whether you have a job, are self-employed, in school or involved in a vocational quest you need a vision. An idea of what you want to end up with when you have done the work.

I was reviewing some notes from reading I have done over the years and came across a great definition of vision. Hopefully, it will help you. You see, where there is no vision, no dream, no hope, there is little life. When you are depressed, the vision can become muddled.

Here is a definition: Vision is a precise, clearly defined goal with a detailed plan and timetable for achieving that result.

Just to be clear, you can have a vision for your business, your body, your relationships, your health, pretty much anything. One of the problems is that most people have wishes, but no vision-based plans.

When you lose that vision, the joy of living becomes replaced with the mere act of surviving or just getting by. You move from joy to subsistence to depression and ultimately to despair. Personally, I do not know anyone who aspires to despair.

The good news, gaining a clear picture, a vision of what you want and what you are willing to do to get it can be a tremendous energizer. Particularly if it honors the Lord and serves man.

So, if you are having “Vision Issues,” here are some things you can do to push back the negative thinking and depressive feelings,

One of the things that happens when we experience set back is a tendency to suffer from the  “paralysis of analysis,” which can be a vision stealer. 

Step Back from the Problem

When Thomas Edison felt stumped by a problem, he removed himself from the work area, lay down, and took a little nap. Years before the research on power napping was available, he understood the importance to stepping back from a problem to get a better perspective. Taking a break from the problem can lead to a fresh perspective.

There are ways to put this principle into practice.

1. Stop. Quit putting needless energy into solving a problem that isn’t getting solved. Dr. John Gottman, relationship expert, says that we need to focus on what is fixable, not on past failures.

2. Do something completely different. Choose to swim, go for a walk, take a break, call a friend, pray, read the Bible. It should be a repetitive activity that gets your undivided attention and absorbs, redirects, and gives you energy. Ten to twenty minutes is usually enough time to reset.

3. Observe what happens about the issue when you return your thoughts to it.

Here is a question for you. Are you caught up in the “paralysis of analysis” or are you Stepping Back from the Problem to clear your head? I would love to hear from you. #getagripondepression #AskJohnthurman

John

Pushing Back Depression #5


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(c) 2014 John Thurman – Happy Dancer Premier Rally
Push Back Depression Tip # 5: Re-energize

Depression is an energy eater. If you have ever struggled against depression, you know that it can suck the life right out of you. It drains your energy, heart, mind, body, and soul.

The good news is, you can fight back, and you do not have to let the darkness pull the life out of you.
One of the best ways to re-energize yourself is to monitor your mouth. Depressed people tend to talk depressed using sad words and sad tones–much like Eeyore.

Using negative language when you talk to yourself, especially when you consistently feel helpless and hopeless, is a sure-fire way to keep feeling depressed. Multiple studies on negative self-talk show how gloomy and unhelpful words and thoughts increase depression and anxiety. Making small changes in the way you verbalize can have an enormous, positive impact on the way you feel. And the best thing about this idea, it doesn’t cost a penny. Here is a couple of examples.

You can feel better if you drop the phrase “I can’t.” Instead, try saying, “I won’t.”  This tiny shift in language, changing one four-letter word for another, can have a huge positive impact on your mood. Learn to say it loud and proud.

Instead of saying, “I can’t get out of bed,” say, “I won’t get up in the morning.”

“I can’t feel enthusiastic about my business,” becomes, “I won’t become enthusiastic about my business.”
These small shifts in your verbiage will have a powerful impact on how you feel. When you do this, you move from a position of impotence and powerlessness into choice, which opens up possibilities. When you make this subtle shift, what you are saying is, “My thoughts and my actions are under my control.” That is a powerful statement.

Proverbs 18:21a says “The tongue can bring death and life…” (NLT)

My challenge to you is to be intentional about re-energizing yourself with your words.

John is a Licensed Counselor, Speaker, Publish Author, and International Crisis Response Specialist who lives in Albuquerque. 

Pushing Back Depression # 3


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(c) 2013 John Thurman Beach Jumper 1
Last summer I was in Grand Rapids, Michigan for a some training as a Crisis Response Specialist. I stayed over a couple of extra day to experience Lake Michigan. My friends told me to check out Grand Haven Beach and I did. What a delight to see people enjoying a day at the beach. Walking out to the light house I noticed a group of local teens jumping off the pier. They were having an absolute blast. You can check out some of my shots on my flickr account.

One thing was for certain, they were having a blast. 

As we continue to look at ways to beat the blues, to push back depression, to overcome the negative things in 

One of the practical things you can do to push back depression is to bump up your positive experiences

Sasha had been volunteering as the women’s ministry director in her church for the past three years. She led the ministry through the ups and downs including power struggles and emotional drama. She spent hours in prayer and in personal study. The other night she told her husband, Leo, that she thought she was done. 

For the next half hour she cried, complained, and released all the frustrations that had built up. Leo was wise that night. He said, “Do you need a hug?” The next morning Sasha asked Leo what she should do. Once again he wisely said, “Call a couple of your girlfriends and go have some fun.”

She did. She and two of her girlfriends spent some Kohl’s bucks and then went to Starbucks. 

One of the classic effects of depression is stealing your sense of pleasure. Without some pleasurable experiences woven into your life, you can descend into the dull grayness of depression.

Being intentional about having pleasurable experiences is one way to overcome the low motivation that can be a part of depression.

Here is one proven plan for boosting your pleasure.

Do this:

1. Record every activity you do for the next three to five days.

2. Answer the following question for each activity: Was it pleasurable? Yes or No? 

3. For each pleasurable activity, rate it from 1 to 10 — 1 being the least pleasurable and 10 being the most.

Push Back Depression: Tip # 2

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Bear Canyon Bicycle/Pedestrian Bridge (c) 2013 John Thurman
The Second Tip for Pushing Back Depression is:

Quit Comparing

Depression, by its nature, fogs up your sense of self. When you are struggling in the negative swill of depression, it can be easy to find other people who are doing better in nearly every area of life. 

For just a moment, I am going to reach way back into the vault and link you to a clip that is so old, you can probably find it on the RFD Channel, no offense to my farming and ranching buddies. It is a clip from a segment of Hee Haw which is an interesting look into how we can get caught up in the game of comparison when we are depressed. Give a 26 second listen to Gloom, Despair, and Agony

To combat this darkness, you stop comparing yourself to others. There will always be someone with better looks, more money, and greater status than you, but you do not have to be sucked into the trap of comparison. 

Instead, choose to catch yourself the next time you begin to compare yourself to others. When one of those comparative thoughts starts, stop it, and replace it with one or two positive things about yourself.

Be deliberate about noticing what is good. “And now dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable (Philippians 4:8 NLT).

A new friend of mine, Holley Gerth has some comforting thoughts in her blog, When You’re Tempted to Compare.

1 of 7 Things You Can Do to Push Back Depression

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Robin Williams entertaining troops in 2003
Robin Williams’ memory, his acting, his stories and comedy sketches will live on through video clips and the internet. Hopefully, we will take some lessons from the loss of this extraordinary actor, comedian, and exceptional communicator.

Depression can be a quiet killer. It is a disorder that is widely experienced and yet few people seek treatment for it. 

According to the CDC, suicide is the tenth leading cause of death for all ages in 2010. The CDC report also states that there were 38,364 suicides in the U.S—an average of 105 each day. 

In looking at gender issues, the same report stated that males are four times more likely than females to commit suicide, and represent 79% of all U.S., suicides. 

While suicide prevention and intervention programs are a must, we can take better care of ourselves and others if we know how to push depression back.

The next several blogs will give you tools you can use to battle the blues, to push back depression. These concepts are found in my book Get a Grip on Depression. It is also available on Amazon/Kindle and can be ordered through your local bookstore.

Depression robs you by making you feel inadequate and worthless. As bad as robbery sounds, you and I always have choices in how we respond to what life throws at us.

Suggestion # 1 Stop saying bad things about yourself. 

There is a great line from Kelly’s Heroes, a Clint Eastwood anti-warwar movie where Donald Sutherland’s character does an excellent job confronting the negative ways-check out this clip.

One of the things you can do for yourself is to focus on what you appreciate about your life, yourself, and your situation. While this is a simple concept, it may be a difficult task, particularly if you have been under the heaviness of depression. Part of getting better is to begin to stop speaking the nagging, negative thoughts that so easily slip into your mind when you are depressed.

In the place of negative thoughts and words, try noticing what you do appreciate about yourself. No matter how bad you feel, there are good things about you.

Try this assignment. Make a list of at least three things that you appreciate. Here are a few suggestions to consider adding to your list:
A good listener
A loyal friend
A fresh, warm chocolate chip cookie

The purpose of this exercise is to help you begin to push back the dark, consuming, negative thoughts and focus on the good around you.

I love the line from Kathryn Stockett’s book and movie  The Help, “You is smart. You is kind. You is important.” These are keeper phrases because you are all of those and more. Here is the clip.
Monday, I will have the next tip for pushing back depression.

John is a licensed counselor with over 35,000 in the people helping business. He is also a speaker, author, and crisis response specialist.

Thoughts about Robin Williams Part #2 

Laughter, Joy, tenderness, and passion are things that come to mind when I think of Robin Williams. Another attribute I admired was his ability to be vulnerable. For years he talked about his struggle with addictions, depression, and open heart surgery.

He had struggled a great part of his adult life with a brain disorder which included severe depression, which in many cases co-exists with addictions. Even with treatment, support from friends and family and remarkably successful career, mental illness can still end up killing a person.

As a Christ follower, I have been somewhat discouraged by some of the “faith-based” blogs I have seen about suicide. As a seasoned professional, I have come to see that individuals who come to the edge of the black hole of suicide are not in their right mind. Isolation, depression, and hopelessness steal the individual of their ability to look forward to the possibilities of hope and relief. I believe in a God that is at His core Compassionate, one who weeps with those who weep, one who feels sadness, and one who mourns with those who mourn. 

We need to respond to hurting friends, neighbors, and relative with compassion.

Here are some facts about suicide and depression. I trust that you will find this helpful.

The following is from my book Get a Grip on Depression:

Over 90% of people who commit suicide have clinical depression or another diagnosable mental disorder. Many times, people who commit suicide have a substance abuse problem. Often they have that problem in combination with other mental disorders.

Adverse or traumatic life events in combination with other risk factors, such as clinical depression, may lead to death. But suicide and suicidal behaviors are never normal responses to stress.

Other risk factors for suicide include:
• One or more prior suicide attempts
• Family history of mental disorder or substance abuse
• Family history of suicide
• Family violence
• Physical or sexual abuse
• Keeping firearms in the home
• Chronic physical illness, including chronic pain
• Incarceration
• Exposure to the suicidal behavior of others

Warning signs that someone may be thinking about or planning to commit suicide include:
• Always talking or thinking about death
• Clinical depression (deep sadness, loss of interest, trouble sleeping and eating) that gets worse
• Having a “death wish,” tempting fate by taking risks that could lead to death, such as driving fast or running red lights
• Losing interest in things one used to care about
• Making comments about being hopeless, helpless, or worthless
• Putting affairs in order, tying up loose ends, changing a will
• Saying things like, “It would be better if I were nothere” or “I want out.”
• Sudden, unexpected switch from being very sad to being very calm or appearing to be happy
• Talking about suicide
• Visiting or calling people to say goodbye
• Prior suicide attempts (According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, between 20 and 50% of people who commit suicide have had a previous attempt)

What you can do if you have suicidal thoughts:
• Talk with trusted friends, family members, or others you respect who can assist you
• Talk with your doctor, mental health professional, or pastor. Many times, talking eases or removes suicidal urges. In some cases though, hospitalization is necessary until a sense of balance can be restored.

Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or a local hotline to speak with a crisis counselor.

John is a Licensed Professional Counselor, Speaker, and Author.

Here is an ancient thought that could provide encouragement.

Psalms 40:1-3 I waited patiently for the LORD; he inclined to me and heard my cry. He drew me up from the pit of destruction, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure. He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God. Many will see and fear, and put their trust in the LORD.

Click this link for a Free Depression Test

6 Reasons to Get a Grip on Depression


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(c) 2013 John Thurman from Dia de Los Muertos Y Marigold Parade, Albuquerque
So, what will reading Get a Grip on Depression do for the reader?

by John Thurman

Depression negatively impacts your personal life, relationships, and business. Recent studies indicate that 16% of Americans will have at least one episode of Major Depression in their lifetime.

The sad news is that few will seek help for it.

The purpose of Get a Grip on Depression is to help you better understand depression and to learn proven, effective ways to manage depression using a combination of the latest research and the ancient, but still relevant, principles of Scripture. Practically speaking, this workbook is designed to help you:

•   Boost your mood naturally

•    Understand the cause of depression

•    Lower the risk and impact of depression

•   Review meaningful stories and principles from Scripture

•   Overcome mild depression

•  Increase a sense of purpose, well-being, and mission

•   Supplement your depression treatment

•  Prevent relapse

•  Relieve the residual symptoms of major depression

•  Incorporate biblically-based, spiritual practices to alleviate and reduce the impact of                  depression

You’ve heard the old saying, “Insanity is doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting a different outcome.” Maybe it’s time to stop doing the same old thing.

This resource will offer a fresh perspective to depression. Some readers may believe this approach is too indirect and not “clinical” enough. My encouragement to you is to remember that depression constricts your opinion of your capabilities and keeps you in a comfort zone of weak and slow. Get a Grip on Depression is about trying something a little different. If you are currently being treated with medication or counseling, then please continue. This resource will supplement the hard work you are already doing.

One of the principles for getting a grip on depression is personal responsibility and agency, which simply means you are an active player in your own recovery. It is important for us to focus on responsibility and to be forward-looking. Seeing ourselves as perpetual victims of childhood or adult trauma tends to make us a prisoner of the past and gnaws at our sense of responsibility. All successful counseling has two things in common: It is forward-looking, and it requires assuming personal responsibility.

Excerpt from Get a Grip On Depression p 17