Thursday, December 19, 2013

Holiday Blues...and I don't mean Buble'

The holidays can be challenging for many people and families.  The excitement of the season can also lead to a level of stress that can be overwhelming.  So much to do: the long list of gifts to buy; the parties and events to attend; the family, friends, and colleagues with whom to connect at least once a year.  Throw in some Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanzza/Solstice cheer and heavy food, and you have a recipe for a serious holiday hangover that seems to start faster and last longer each year.
The time of year is especially difficult for anyone who has experienced difficult circumstances like serious trauma and loss.  Abuse, conflict, injury, death, divorce, poverty, or separation in the past or present sort of front load our brains to experience the inevitable stimulation and disappointment of the season as quite triggering with reactions and responses that seem unexpected or out of character.  This is especially true for foster and adopted children who are not living with their biological families and may demonstrate stress by acting out or withdrawing.  Adults who have suffered loss may lash out or isolate.  Some simple steps may help prevent the pain and create peace on earth and within.
1. Lower your expectations for the holidays.  Your house does not have to look like a Target commercial.  Keep the same routines, like meal and bed times, you have for every other day of the year, perhaps a Saturday schedule.  Structure reduces stress particularly if you plan a few days ahead.
2. If you have engagements and events to attend with family and friends, call ahead to discuss your escape plan with them should the holiday spirit become overwhelming to you or your children.  Let your children and partner know.  You have the choice to retreat to car, hotel or home without guilt.
3. Set aside time during the holiday season, probably not on the big day, to feel and remember your losses.  Create a ritual, like lighting candles or writing little notes, to honor the relationships with the people who are no longer with us because of choice or conflict, death or distance.  Sad is acceptable.
4. Continue a tradition that recalls the best of the past or create a new one that predicts a fresh future.  Pull out one of Grandma's grease-stained cookie recipes and recreate it with the kids.  Take a hike or walk the block with a loved one or even alone.  Either generates happy brain chemicals that are free.
If the anticipation of the holidays, the reality of the situation, or the aftermath of the season become overwhelming, give yourself the gift of self care by calling a friend or making an appointment with a professional who can help you navigate the ups and downs of the holiday season now and next year.