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4 December, 2023.

Advice on stress and grief during the Holiday Season

The Holiday Season is understood to be a time of family, friends, and happy children. A chance for us to celebrate with those we love, give gifts of appreciation, and share traditional meals that bring memories of holidays past. While it is a time of joy, for many of us it can also bring a great amount of stress, anxiety, and even depression. The staff of The Family Counseling Center works with clients on how to best cope with holiday stress.

Laressa Slater, LMSW, an Outpatient Mental Health Therapist at The Family Counseling Center, recently addressed two major sticking points for holiday mental health: finances and grief. “I find that these two issues come up the most with clients around the holidays,” said Slater. “I often work with individuals to be open, honest, and address the concerns head-on.”

Worries about finances

Gifts are a central focus of the Holiday Season and managing expectations along with tight budgets can bring a great amount of strain to individuals. The inability to provide a large amount of gifts, or past levels of gifts, can create feelings of inadequacy, self-criticism, and the feeling of disappointing those we love. Slater works with clients to create alternative gifts and experiences that may not cost much but carry with them the care and love that the season intends.

“If the major concern is disappointing children, I work with folks to frame a conversation ahead of time,” said Slater. “It’s important to manage expectations – ‘There may not be a lot of gifts around the tree this year, but we are going to work to make it a great holiday none-the-less.’ As adults, we can recognize that the memories we carry through our life are the most valuable gift, but for children this is not necessarily obvious.”

Slater recommends finding activities that are exciting and holiday-focused such as baking cookies, having hot cocoa and movie nights with favorite films, or taking drives through neighborhoods to see holiday lights. “When it comes to winter, I think it is important to get out and get some sunshine, so playing in the snow or taking a walk in nature where you focus in on the details of winter life can help you mentally and emotionally while also spending time with those you love.”

Suggested activities:

  • Local libraries often have games, movies, holiday themed books, and discounted admission to area activities for anyone with a library card.
  • Holiday parades and events abound in the coming weeks. These events celebrate the holiday spirit without costing anything.
  • Creating a family scavenger hunt is a fun way to get outside and work toward a common goal. The end prize can be something small or even a decorated yule log to place on your table.

Addressing grief

The Holiday Season can bring with it a great amount of grief for those we have lost. If a loved one has recently past, this may be the first time families have experienced a holiday without them and that milestone re-ignites the feeling of loss. “This time of year can be really hard,” says Slater. “It’s important to take the time to honor our lost loved one. It helps us recognize that, though they may no longer be with us, we are still connected.”

Slater recommends letter writing. “I’m a big believer in writing or talking to those who have passed. Writing a holiday card and mounting it on the mantle or your refrigerator with other cards you have received can help you feel like you are sharing the season with them.” Slater also encourages individuals to carry on traditions such as cookie baking, holiday games, storytelling, or special meals your loved one made. “Grief can overwhelm us, so it is important to focus on happy experiences and the love and connections we had and still have long after they are gone.”

Grief resources: