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Finding The Healing Potential In Holidays: Unexpected Ways

Wednesday, November 21st, 2012

If you were a bit thrown to learn that Thanksgiving was on for this Thursday and that the Holidays were closing in fast – you were not alone.

Given the unprecedented destruction and aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, the continued sacrifices of our military, the escalation of international strife, the threatened fiscal cliff and the personal storms most people face, it has been difficult enough to negotiate daily life- much less, think about the holidays.

Do We Really Need The Holidays Now?

Yes. We need the holidays because if we can look past the details and avoid getting trapped in expectations, holidays hold great healing potential. In ways we hardly expect, they provide many of the ingredients recognized as essential to the stages of healing and recovery after traumatic events.

Physical and Psychological Safety

We know that in the aftermath of trauma and disaster, people are most comforted and stabilized by familiar networks of support. The Holidays provide this.

  • In the case of survivors of Hurricane Sandy, we know that families embraced each other and gathered together earlier than expected and may stay together longer than planned. For them, as well as for other familiar networks be they a military unit, a medical staff, evacuees at a shelter or a few students far from home, a Thanksgiving dinner has the potential to stop the clock, take them off task and offer physical and emotional sustenance.
  • No matter how many hours they have worked, cried or served together, to stop and gather with the mutual goal of celebrating and giving thanks reduces the isolation and alienation inherent in the challenges they face. The shared experience adds to their cohesion and the sense of being held together. When the festivity ends – the benefits and memories do not.
  • Food plays a major role in holidays. As such it is as emotionally healing as it is physically gratifying. Emotionally charged events, be they wonderful or traumatic, are remembered and encoded in the senses – the body remembers. As such, food is evocative of powerful memories. While it may seem small, the long awaited fragrance …

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Suzanne Phillips, Psy.D., ABPP & Dianne Kane, DSW are the authors of Healing Together: A Couple's Guide to Coping with Trauma and Post-Traumatic Stress. Pick up the book today!

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