There will come a point in your life in which you’ll experience a loss or grief so severe that it may change the essence of your entire being. It could be due to the tragic loss of a loved one, the unexpected end of a relationship or marriage, or some other unmentionable tragedy. During those moments, one may slip into the depths of despair and heartache. When such things occur, especially during the holidays, the healing process isn’t any easier.

Around this time of year, there will be celebrations, weddings, and holiday festivities galore. The champagne will flow, there will be an overabundance of delicious delicacies, and of course amazing music will be played. Everyone will be expected to eat, drink, dance, and be merry. But amidst all the jubilation, unfortunately there will be someone enduring indescribable grief and seemingly irreparable emotional pain and heart break. It can be an arduous feat for them to overcome these feelings, as the holiday season usually tends to conjure up special memories shared together with loved ones. This time of the year may lead one to wax nostalgic and long to be with those no longer in their life.

There is no doubt that the pain of a broken heart may be truly scarring. Oftentimes, one will describe feelings of emptiness and a void they never imagined was even possible. Some people are unable to cope with the grief and eventually signs of depression may even surface.

The emotional pain and heartache of any loss, may also spur on serious health problems and potentially subsequent death. A 2012 US study found that within the first two years of a child’s death, there was an increased rate of mortality in the bereaved mother by 133%. Another study from Harvard researchers found that bereaved spouses had upwards of a 66% higher risk of death within three months of their wife or husband’s death.

We hear such stories of those so heartbroken due to the death of a loved one, that they themselves suddenly die unexpectedly soon thereafter. It’s often thought that they died of a “broken heart”, simply unable to bare the devastation and emotional anguish of the huge loss.

You may wonder how it’s even possible for extreme heartache and emotional pain to result in death. Can one really die from heart break? Yes, even though it’s extremely rare it’s a possibility.

During severely stressful or traumatic events, the body’s stress hormones may skyrocket and negatively impact the heart. There is actually a condition known as “broken-heart syndrome,” also termed stress-induced cardiomyopathy or Takotsubo cardiomyopathy. The condition affects the left ventricle of the heart and compromises the pump function of the region. The ventricle may subsequently become dilated taking on a balloon-like appearance. Stress-induced cardiomyopathy can weaken the heart and may actually mimic the symptoms of a heart attack.

One will undoubtedly need to seek emergent medical attention if experiencing these cardiac symptoms. But what should one do while struggling mainly with the agony and emotional pain of a broken heart, especially during the holidays?

Well, the healing process is not always straightforward and is quite unique for everyone. But, if you are going through any level of grief or heartache during this time of year, remember a few pointers to help you survive this period.

Pray or meditate
It’s definitely possible to find some healing power through prayer and meditation. The power of prayer is quite real. Not only can it be therapeutic for some, but studies have demonstrated that both prayer and meditation can be an effective means to reduce stress. This is key when dealing with any tragedy or loss.

Don’t isolate yourself
You may feel like hiding from the world and being left alone, but secluding yourself from everyone may engender more feelings of loneliness and sadness. That’s not to say that one must attend every holiday party as a source of healing. But you can seek solace from close friends and family even outside of the celebratory setting. One thing is for sure, having a strong support system in place is an integral component of the healing process.

Don’t neglect your personal needs
You may slip into a “Why-should-I-even-care-anymore?” frame of mind. But continuing to take care of yourself during this period is crucial. Continue to exercise, eat well, and get rest. Your self-care should be a priority.

Also, avoid turning to alcohol, drugs, or other substances to try and numb your emotional pain – that’s never the solution. Rather, make attempts to engage in those activities that brought you some semblance of joy in the past.

Maintain your gratitudeThis is a tough pill for most to swallow. During trying times, you may feel that it’s futile to remain grateful for anything. But try to have gratitude for those special moments you were able to experience with the ‘one’ you lost. Also, give thanks for the wonderful people and blessings you still have in your life.

Your grieving heart may lead you to believe that the pain is insurmountable. Though it may be an immense struggle, understand that the road towards healing may not come quickly, but is definitely attainable.

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  • Nesochi Okeke-Igbokwe, MD, MS

    SuperModelMD, Physician, Health Media Expert, International Speaker

    Dr. Nesochi is a New York City based physician and health expert. She has been featured and quoted in numerous media outlets including CNN, Forbes, Vogue, Better Homes & Gardens, CBS News, Fox News, CNBCAfrica, Glamour, Reader’s Digest, Teen Vogue, InStyle, Self, Today, and more.