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Pfeiffer's Dr. Susan Wilkie shares ways to cope with holiday grief

University's community-based clinic offers confidential, affordable counseling

holiday_stressThe holiday season is a merry and exciting time, but for those who have suffered the loss of a loved one, family conflict or the loss of a job during a lagging economy, the usually joyous season can be a difficult and painful reminder. While experts say grief is normal, coping strategies can help people manage their feelings and enjoy the holiday season.

Dr. Susan Wilkie, a licensed Marriage & Family Therapist (MFT) who specializes in grief and loss and is director of the MFT program at Pfeiffer University, said holidays can be the most feared and confusing time following loss.

“This is an entirely new lens from which one sees the world,” said Wilkie, “The sense of tradition magnifies the loss of connection and roots.”

Experts say that often those who are dealing with loss sometimes feel forced to choose between the need to grieve versus being able to celebrate the spirit of the holidays.

“This time of year is usually a memorable time to get together with family and friends,” Wilkie explained. “But for those who are mourning a loss or are feeling stressed as a result of family conflict or unemployment, the holidays can, instead, be a reminder of what they no longer have.”

Wilkie provides several suggestions that can help people cope:

1. Redefine your holiday expectations. Accept social support from friends and/or family members, but stay in control of narrow or broader windows of time as needed. Withdraw when you desire.

2. Begin new traditions and let others go.

3. Take some time out for yourself. Whether you pamper yourself or simply slow your daily pace, lend some time to your own personal needs and do something to soothe your troubled heart.

4. Give yourself permission to express your emotions. If you feel an urge to cry, let the tears flow. Tears can be healing. Scientists have found that certain brain chemicals in our tears are natural pain relievers. Share the memories and the experience of your loss. Remember, there are no time limits on grief.

5. Eat a nutritious diet, and get some physical exercise and plenty of sleep. Also, avoid excessive alcohol consumption.

6. Find activities that make you laugh. Remember, it is okay to laugh during hard times.

7. Reinvest in others as a volunteer or commit to helping with special events to focus on others.

Wilkie encourages those who yearn for support to seek the counsel of a professional therapist. The Pfeiffer Institute is adjacent to the Charlotte Campus and offers counseling for the community. Services provided include counseling for individuals, couples, and families who need confidential counseling or support. Help for a vast range of emotional, behavioral, and personal challenges is available at a nominal fee of $25 per session or on a sliding scale for those in need. Pfeiffer students pay only $10.

The Pfeiffer Institute, which is located at 4805 Park Rd., Ste. 250, is open on Monday-Thursday from 10 a.m. until 9 p.m. and Fridays from 10:30 a.m. until 4 p.m. For more information or to schedule an appointment, please call the Institute at (704) 945-7324 or contact

Established in 1885, Pfeiffer University is celebrating its 125th anniversary this year. A comprehensive United Methodist-related university, with multiple campuses, including Misenheimer, Charlotte and the Triangle, Pfeiffer is committed to educational excellence, service and scholarship. Visit Pfeiffer online at or on


To schedule an interview with Dr. Wilkie or one of Pfeiffer's grief experts, please contact the Office of Communications at (704) 463-3040 or email

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