Making Room for Grief During the Holidays

This topic of grief and/or loneliness always seems to be increasingly relevant for many during the holiday season. In this post I will focus on these feelings, and how to let your grief have a healthy place in your life“Grief is two parts: The first is loss. The second is the remaking of life.” -Anne Roiphe

Last month I wrote about what I referred to as the “trauma of surviving”–or learning to live life after losing someone dear to you. Such loss may be due to divorce, a move, death, or any other change that results in a separation from loved ones. This topic of grief and/or loneliness always seems to be increasingly relevant for many during the holiday season. In this post I will focus on these feelings, and how to let your grief have a healthy place in your life.

A friend of mine recently told me about a movie on Netflix called the Babadook. A widowed mother is plagued by the death of her husband and simultaneously battles with her son’s fear of a monster lurking in the house. Although this is supposed to be a scary movie, the ending is applicable and relatable to the topic at hand. As the mother in the film avoids facing the reality of her husband’s death, the presence of the monster grows, and the complications in her life amount. In the end we see the mother well put-together and clearly in a different, more positive state as she takes food down to the “monster” that has been banished to live in the basement.  She is feeding or acknowledging the monster–or her grief–and by so doing, it is appeased. It stops tormenting her. Its malevolent presence diminishes and she is able to figure out how to live a balanced, happy life even after the loss of her husband. She lets grief have a place in her life.

While I have not personally seen this movie, I love the parallels that can be made between the monster and grief. Avoiding grief and acting like it is not there can wreak havoc on our life. It can and will weaken us and our important relationships. We must first, acknowledge it and second, work through it.

Acknowledge it.

The “monster” in the Babadook terrorizes the mother right up until the end of the film. She struggles sleeping, maintaining friendships, holding a job, and even keeping the basic elements of her life together. In the same way, grief can eat away at you if it is given the chance. A person who is dealing with grief will most likely display some of the following emotional symptoms: Increased irritability, numbness, bitterness, detachment, preoccupation with loss, and inability to show or experience joy. While these emotional symptoms are normal in the days and weeks after a traumatic event, they can be indicators of a more serious disorder if they do not fade over time.

Grief is unavoidable after loss; the only way to overcome it is to give it place in your life–face it. Popular blogger Emily Meyers, a young mother of five, lost her husband to cancer and was left to care for their children on her own. She wrote a beautiful post about grief, and I have found great truth in these words:

“There is no ‘other side’ of grief. It’s never going to pass. You don’t ever ‘move on’ from it. You just learn to live with it. You absorb it. It becomes part of you. You simply adjust and change. You slowly but surely find how to navigate through your new normal with it. It doesn’t get easier, you just get stronger. I’ll say that again: It doesn’t get easier, you just get stronger. You stop waiting for the storm to pass, and instead, learn to dance in the rain.”

I have some clients who, like the mother in Babadook, try to simply ignore their grief and “move on” without facing it. But again, just as the mother in Babadook, this does not and cannot work. As Emily Meyers said, you cannot simply move on. You must learn to live with your grief.  You must acknowledge it. Do not expect to move on from a life-altering loss without allowing yourself to bereave or grieve. Yes, I am telling you to be sad–it is okay!

Work through it.

The loss of anything important to you–a relationship, a job, an opportunity, a loved one– can cause feelings of profound grief. Sadness around the holidays–or any time of year–is okay. It is perfectly understandable and 100% normal to feel like you are not “over” your loss. What is important is what you do with your sadness. Acknowledging it is the first step, and once you have done this, you will need to work through your grief and process your emotions. For some, this may mean crying, writing in a journal, participating in a therapeutic hobby or activity (like exercise), talking with a friend, or counseling with an experienced, licensed therapist. The most important thing is that you take the time to work through your difficult emotions because they do not go away on their own. In my experience, I have seen that simply burying or ignoring grief only exacerbates the problem when it actually does surface. And it is sure to!

If the holidays highlight your loneliness or the absence of a loved one, this time of year can be especially difficult. Many of my clients find themselves in a slump around the Christmas season, and struggle to find something to celebrate. My heart aches for those who are grieving this year. I advise you to take my counsel to heart and acknowledge, then work through your grief. I know that by so doing you will find a place for your grief and will then be able to find a healthy balance of grieving and living life to the fullest. And, as always, if you need help facing or working through your grief, please do not hesitate to contact me today or schedule a session.

Melissa Cluff is a licensed marriage and family therapist based in Lewisville, Texas, personally seeing clients in the North Dallas area.

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Getting Up With the Sun: Morning Routines

Steve Jobs, the late CEO of Apple, started his days off asking himself, “If today was the last day of my life, would I be happy with what I’m about to do today?” Ensure that you are starting your day off on the right foot with a productive morning routine!

You snoozed through your alarm to work out, woke up late, had no clean underwear, got toothpaste on your shirt, grabbed a fast, non-nutritious bite to eat, and rushed into work. You meant to wake up early, hit the gym, have a protein-packed breakfast, and beat the boss into work, but–yet again–it did not happen. Does this sound all too familiar? If you feel you are stuck in a cycle of good intentions and consistently disappointing follow-throughs, this post is for you. By making a few tweaks and additions to your morning, you can be on your way to a happier, healthier life–one where you are in control.

Last month I posted about nightly routines and promised to follow-up with a post on morning routines. We all know that starting the day off on the right foot is actually quite indicative of how the rest of the day will go. A morning ritual or routine can consist of many activities; whatever you choose, consistency in those activities is the key to jumpstart your day!

The hardest part of starting a morning routine is just that, getting started–both literally and figuratively. Do you know where to start? What type of morning ritual do you want to have in place? What types of things do you want to do? I scoured the internet and read blog posts about all sorts of morning routines, and I found the following six suggestions to be the most recurring:

  • THE GYM. We all know someone who is slightly smug about the fact that he/she made it to the gym before the sun arose. While getting exercise in to start the day does come with various health benefits, there is an additional benefit we all could use:  Focus. A friend of mine who has dealt with ADHD her entire life recently told me she got through the most stressful job she ever had by waking at 5 a.m. to go to barre class. It calmed her down, helped her focus, and allowed her to wean off coffee–which, in turn, reduced her jitters. Hit the gym in the a.m., or simply get out for a walk. You will never regret it.
  • MEDITATION. I have written about the benefits of meditation. Though often used to slow down and relax (before bed, for instance), it can also be used to focus the mind and prepare oneself for productivity. Whether your meditation includes actual yoga and stretching, prayer, spiritual study or simple breathing exercises, being in tune with your psyche will start your day off on the right foot. Meditation lowers stress levels and boost productivity and creativity.
  • NUTRITION. This one will be different for all of us depending on preferences and allergies. Some may have oatmeal, chia pudding, a green smoothie, or maybe it will be eggs, toast and sausage. Give yourself nutrient-rich food and you will be sure to notice heightened energy levels. Fuel up in preparation for a productive day. Take a few extra minutes and pack some healthy snacks to take with you. And don’t forget the vitamins!
  • APPEARANCE. My dad always showers at night because he likes to go to bed clean; but then, he will shower in the morning as well. Showering in the morning wakes him up and helps him feel refreshed, awake, and ready for the day. Whatever you choose, be sure to make time to get yourself looking and feeling presentable. Shower/wash your face, brush your teeth, do any necessary ironing, coordinate your outfit and accessories, so that you can leave your house feeling good and confident.
  • GAMEPLAN. Many nightly routines include making a plan, schedule, to-do-list, etc. for the next day. The reason for that is to streamline that process in the morning. During your morning ritual, review that game plan for the day, add in any specifics, and prepare yourself for any responsibilities you may have. Plan what you will need to take with you when you leave the house, as well as anything you may need throughout the day. This may seem obvious, but taking the time to sit and plan this step will help you feel less like a chicken with its head cut off as you haphazardly grab things while rushing out the door!
  • PRODUCTIVITY. Get right to work. Instead of wasting time idly catching up on your Facebook or Instagram feed (which has been proven to decrease overall motivation and productivity when done at the start of the day), get to work. Start your morning routine immediately.  It will reduce your stress!

Here is an example of a morning routine:
5:30 AM: Wake up, put on gym clothes, contacts, drink 8 oz. ice cold water
5:40 AM: Hit the gym (M/W/F: Weights; Tu/Th: Interval Cardio; Sa/Su: Walk)
6:40 AM: Return home, eat protein shake, shower, brush teeth, get dressed, etc.
7:10 AM: 20 minutes of meditation/prayer/spiritual study
7:30 AM: Review goals and day’s schedule, prepare to leave
7:45: Leave for work

Remember, this is just an example. Your morning routine should work best for you and your lifestyle, and should incorporate your goals. I have covered the basic suggestions to fuel productivity and focus throughout the day.  While this post contains six of the most frequently occurring ideas on the internet, there are so many other options out there! Through my research in writing this blog, I found a neat website, My Morning Routine, where you can sign up to receive a brand new morning routine idea in your inbox every Wednesday. The key is finding what works best for you and implementing that into a pattern you can consistently and happily follow. Should you find yourself with questions or desiring additional help, please don’t hesitate to contact me or schedule a session. And be sure to tune in next month as I talk about ways you can use your morning and nightly routines to help you reach your New Year’s goals!

Melissa Cluff is a licensed marriage and family therapist based in Lewisville, Texas, personally seeing clients in the North Dallas area.

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You Are Blessed: A Simple Gratitude Challenge

Simple Gratitude Challenge - Cluff Counseling, Lewisville Therapist“Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.” ~ Melody Beattie

This is the season we always hear and talk about “blessings” and “thankfulness.” What does that even mean? Let’s start by defining gratitude. Gratitude is an emotion expressing appreciation for what one has—as opposed to thinking only about what one wants or needs. Studies show that we can deliberately cultivate gratitude by simply counting our blessings and expressing gratitude through words, lists, or written letters of thanks. When gratitude comes from deep within us and is meaningful, it is a proactive acknowledgement that can increase our overall well-being, health, and happiness. Being grateful—and especially expressing it—is also associated with increased energy, optimism, and empathy.

We could all use these benefits in our life!  This is why I have put together and am sharing a little activity that I did recently. It really is not difficult to sit down and think of a few things we are grateful for. No matter what each of us have been through, we have things to be thankful for!

If I were to tell you to take a paper and number 1-100 and and write 100 things you are grateful for, it might take you a little while and seem slightly overwhelming… Instead, I have a challenge that will make you think about specific things, people, places, and experiences for which you are profoundly grateful. Let’s get started.

What I want you to do is take a paper and number it one through ten, ten times, leaving a space in between each grouping. Then, insert the following topics in the space you left, as headings:

  1. Write 10 physical abilities you are grateful for.
  2. Write 10 material possessions you are grateful for.
  3. Write 10 people (living or dead) you are grateful for.
  4. Write 10 smells and sounds you are grateful for.
  5. Write 10 things about nature you are grateful for.
  6. Write 10 things about today you are grateful for.
  7. Write 10 places on earth you are grateful for.
  8. Write 10 modern inventions you are grateful for.
  9. Write 10 foods you are grateful for.
  10. Write 10 life experiences you’ve had that you are grateful for.

This gratitude challenge is the perfect introduction into Thanksgiving, and will surely help us keep a positive perspective and a grateful heart. The hustle and bustle of the holiday season can often get us feeling discouraged or less-than. Instead, let’s acknowledge and enjoy the beautiful blessings that surrounds us. This activity has helped me remember how much I have to be grateful for.  I know that when you do this challenge, you will feel grateful, too! Make time today for this activity!

Please feel free to reach out with questions, concerns, or to schedule a session. The holiday season is busy for everyone, but it is also a great time to get the help you need!

Melissa Cluff is a licensed marriage and family therapist based in Lewisville, Texas, personally seeing clients in the North Dallas area.

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Adding Affection To Your Agenda

Adding Affection To Your Agenda - Cluff Counseling - Denton Couples Therapist“Great marriages don’t happen by luck or by accident. They are the result of a consistent investment of time, thoughtfulness, forgiveness, affection, prayer, mutual respect, and a rock-solid commitment between a husband and wife.” ~Dave Willis

Last month I posted about scheduling time to be with your partner sexually. In this post, I want to add onto this idea of scheduling time for your partner. Think back to when you and your partner were dating. How did you display affection? What did you do to let your partner know you were interested in him/her? Did you hold hands often? Give back rubs? Bear hug? Link arms when walking? Now let me ask, how are you displaying affection TODAY in your relationship? If you are like most people in a long-term relationship or marriage, there is noticeable decline in your level of PDA or even private displays of affection. So this post is all about amping that up to increase the connection in your relationship.

Here is the truth. The best relationships and marriages engage in a lot of touching…sex being only one form of touching. Yes, it is the one our minds typically go to first as the healing or unifying display of affection, but there is a great deal of power in non-sexual affection as well. Researchers and love experts, Gary Smalley and John Trent, have written that, “8 to 10 meaningful touches a day is really a minimum requirement for a woman to stay emotionally and physically healthy.” And the same is true about men; I have found through years of counseling that both men and women crave affection and want to feel valued!

Are you and your partner sharing 8-10 meaningful touches a day? Most of us are so busy with life that the answer to this question is an unfortunate no! If this includes you, start by asking your partner how they like to receive affection and share with them specific ways you like to be touched. Use the list below to help you and your partner brainstorm ways you each like to be touched. It is important to note that if one partner has experienced trauma, there may be some types of touch that are triggering for them.

  1. Rub his arm
  2. Kiss his cheek
  3. Put your arm around her
  4. Hold his hand
  5. Play footsies
  6. Rub his leg
  7. Touch her elbow
  8. Run your fingers through his hair
  9. Touch her back
  10. Give him a bear hug and hold on
  11. Run your fingers over her cheek
  12. Kiss his neck
  13. Put your arm around her waist
  14. Hug him from behind and put your cheek next to his
  15. Kiss her gently on the lips
  16. Squeeze his bum
  17. Touch your forehead to hers
  18. Rest your head on his shoulder
  19. Dance with her
  20. Whisper in his ear
  21. Sit close together
  22. Spoon in bed
  23. Give him a scalp massage
  24. Hold her face in your hands and stare into her eyes
  25. Squeeze his hand

I would recommend choosing one a day, and committing yourself to implement it into your relationship. Aiming to do one a day allows flexibility–you have complete freedom in deciding what you will do and when you will do it. As you increase your levels of affection, you will notice that it will become reciprocal–your partner will begin to do the same. It is as if you will light a match that will turn into a rolling fire.

By definition, affection means a gentle feeling of fondness or liking, which can certainly include verbal expression. Here are three ideas: First idea, challenge or schedule yourself to say, “I love you,” three times a day. Second idea, express love and adoration in public. Many couples, who have been together for a long time, eventually act like they are simply sharing groceries when in public. No! Go back to the dating days! Shower your partner with affection, both verbal physical, in private and in public. And the third idea would be to tell your partner he/she is handsome/beautiful at least once a day. Pretty doable, right?

Scheduling sex can provide needed closeness, but only if regular, loving touch is a normal part of the everyday marriage or relationship. Expressing affection to your partner is powerful and can set you on a path to both heal and strengthen your relationship. I urge you to take the time to schedule closeness today–whether that is sexually or affectionately. And if you are feeling overwhelmed or unsure about how to implement this counsel, please feel free to contact or come see me. My door is always open!

Melissa Cluff is a licensed marriage and family therapist based in Lewisville, Texas, personally seeing clients in the North Dallas area.

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The Trauma of Surviving

The Trauma of Surviving - Cluff Counseling - Denton TherapistDeath is inevitable, yet the loss of a close friend or family member is accompanied with a range of emotions. During this holiday season, and all seasons, it is important to recognize and address the trauma of surviving a loss of a loved one…because YOU are worth it!

Have you ever had a sibling or a roommate move out after living together for an extended period of time? If so, you have experienced what it is like to really notice someone’s absence; suddenly the house is quieter, the bathroom is sadly cleaner, and you feel oddly emptier. This experience, magnified infinitely, is similar to surviving after someone near and dear to you passes on. You become intensely aware of their absence, and it is often accompanied by unavoidable waves of grief and sorrow. This is a type of trauma.

A close friend’s mom passed away when we were freshmen in High School. I remember her putting on her game face, acting grateful her mom was free of cancer, but I knew my friend was a mess inside. I cannot begin to imagine how quiet her house must have felt, or how sad mealtimes must have been, or how many nights she must have cried herself to sleep thinking of all the things her mom would miss–graduations, marriage, babies. Losing her mom to cancer, at age 15, impacted this friend in ways she did not and could not understand at that time.

Everyone deals with death differently. My friend acted like nothing happened and continued living life as normal. Several years down the road, however, she snapped. She got into drugs, alcohol and risky sex, eventually got pregnant, and entered into a marriage she was not ready for or committed to. Years later, she cleaned up her life and is now in a different, stable marriage with additional children. After years of avoiding grieving the loss of her mother, she has started to confront her grief and I am encouraged she will continue to heal from the trauma of surviving the loss of her mother.

My clients, and friend, have taught me many things about the trauma of surviving, and I wish to share some of those with you today! As we enter the holiday season, past and present losses can be felt deeply and I want to give you some tools to help you navigate this season, and all seasons:

  • Talk about it–but only when you are ready. Let others in. Hibernating for a period of time is understandable, but eventually the time will come when you need to let others in. Start slowly by sharing with a few trusted people. Sometimes, this may be safest with a trained, experienced counselor or therapist.
  • Welcome the flood of emotions. Do not feel the need to “be strong” for anyone else. Allow yourself to feel the sorrow, the anger, the devastation, the relief…whatever it may be. Let that emotion have place in your heart and recovery.
  • Recognize you will need to recreate “normal.” Your life will never go back to how it used to be. That is the tragic truth of loss; it changes everything. But YOU and only you have control over the new normal you choose to create in your life. Let that empower you.
  • Do what you love with those you love. Practice self-care and self-love. Travel. Exercise. Pick up or make time for hobbies. Spend time with those you love.
  • Cherish the memories you have. Whether this means displaying pictures, making a photo album, or organizing family videos, celebrate the life and legacy of your loved one. By cherishing the time you did have, those memories can become more poignant, than the memories of the loss.
  • Give yourself time to heal. Recognize that grief is an emotion you need to process, and work through–just like anger, frustration, or resentment. Acknowledge the fact that your grief will be ongoing and that there will be harder days than others. Be okay with that and give yourself whatever time you need to heal.

Living through the death of a loved one is an incredibly traumatic experience, and it merits endless blog posts and conversations. Sometimes my friend will sheepishly admit through tears that she is not “over” losing her mother, and I have to remind her that it is completely okay! Navigating life without those we love most is and will be ongoing. It requires that we talk about it, give place for each emotion that arises, create a new normal, practice self-care, cherish memories, and give ourselves time to heal. I have a deep appreciation for those who live on after the loss of close loved ones; please contact me today and allow me to help you in the healing process. I am here for you!

Melissa Cluff is a licensed marriage and family therapist based in Lewisville, Texas, personally seeing clients in the North Dallas area.

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