Finding hope and happiness during the holidays
This time of year can be tough. If money’s tight, every advertisement on TV can feel like a reminder of what you can’t have or can’t give. If you’re in recovery, other people’s parties can tempt and test. If you lack close family nearby, a sense of loneliness and isolation can creep into your thinking. Even if you do have family, others’ super-happy social media posts can magnify difficult feelings.
If the holidays have you stressed, pay attention to those feelings.
There’s so much good to see, and so much gratitude to share at this time of year, but conflicting emotions can overwhelm, too. Clients and therapists with Chrysalis Behavioral Health offer their thoughts on how to boost feelings of wellbeing during this complex season of expectation and gratitude.
A key idea? It’s the importance of building connections and sharing togetherness. Chrysalis clients include many young adults and children who have suffered abuse, experienced serious mental health challenges, or grappled with substance abuse disorders. Asked about their plans for the holidays, they had much wisdom to share:
The holidays are a time for strengthening connections to others.
- “I cope by helping to cook. I enjoy playing with children in my family and making them laugh.”
- “I cope by cooking, praying, and giving thanks for my family and friends.”
- “I like to give back to my community by donating food.”
- “I reminisce about the past. I think about where I came from and how much progress I have made. I focus on getting better.”
- “I like to visit family or if I can’t I like to go to church to help me get through it”
- Having a strong support network matters more than fancy food or presents. If you don’t have a good friend or mentor, working on it can be the greatest gift you give yourself, said Tara Kellogg, Chrysalis’ director of clinical supervision. Connecting with a church or temple, finding a mentor through a group like Big Brothers-Big Sisters, joining in an Alcoholics or Narcotics Anonymous meeting, or working with a therapist are all ways to build positive support.
- Kellogg says her clients typically do well through the holidays because they’ve got that support. “It’s a huge, huge thing,” Kellogg said. “Research shows that if you have even one person in your support system, you are going to do better.”
Gift-spending limits can ease stress.
- Remember to put yourself first, said Elisabeth Hotchkiss, director of psychosocial rehabilitation at Chrysalis’ Broward County office. That can require setting boundaries with family and others with regard to time commitments and gift spending. Setting a gift limit, for example, can relieve financial stress. Meeting with a therapist allows you the space to process your emotions and work through them. Trying to force yourself to feel a certain way isn’t likely to work for long, she adds. “Focus on the positive memories of the holidays and creating more good ones, and let the past go,” Hotchkiss says. “Take Deep Breaths when you feel yourself getting anxious.”
- Instead of making a list of what you want, Chrysalis Intake Coordinator Shelli Snyder likes the idea of making a list of anything and everything you’re grateful for — warm weather in winter, the smiles on babies’ faces, sparkling lights on palm trees, the slow melt of a chocolate kiss on your tongue. “List them in your head, write them down, stay completely focused on what’s good!” Snyder says. “Don’t drink or use drugs thinking they will ‘help,’ they never do.” “If you have no one to be with, find someone else who has no one to be with and be with them.”
- Therapist Beda Rojas says many of her clients are stressed about how family will treat them, or about how poorly they’ve been treated in the past. “We have to release our own expectations we have about family members,” she says. The way people are is the way people are. By the same token, “It is important to choose who you want to be around, and that they are positive.” Therapist Camille Marsh encourages her clients to soak up what’s beautiful and good about the season. “Enjoy the decorations! Accept the invitations,” she says. “Spend time with family and enjoy lots of food, I look forward to it all year!”