How to cope with a not-so-merry holiday season

Jan Kwiatkowski, LMFT, is a psychotherapist and mental health consultant for Aurora Family Service in Milwaukee, WI.

Jan Kwiatkowski, LMFT, is a psychotherapist and mental health consultant for Aurora Family Service in Milwaukee, WI.

The holiday season is emotionally charged. The emphasis on joyous family times, fond memories and togetherness can amplify the pain of those hurting from depression, broken relationships, grief, unemployment, illness, loneliness and any kind of loss.

We live in a world that tries to deny or squelch these very human feelings. Society encourages us to spend, drink or somehow numb ourselves to what is very real inside of us. Many families replay unhealthy behaviors or the behaviors intensify. Many are simply relieved when the holidays are over.

First, of all, it is OK to feel whatever it is you or your family are feeling. Sadness, frustration, grief, disappointment and anger are intense emotions. They are not good or bad. They are human. These emotions are also unpleasant and uncomfortable.

Naturally, we don’t want to experience the unpleasant and uncomfortable. Sometimes, we don’t want to admit that we feel the way we do. Naming what you are feeling to yourself or a trusted other can often relieve the greater tension of trying to keep them tucked inside.

It is OK to say no, take care of yourself and your family. This may mean not going to every work, church or family party. It may mean that you choose to do something that you’ve always done in a different way. It may mean that you choose to honor a family tradition even though it is very different this year. Whatever it is, being intentional about your choice honors the reality of your experience and is a way of taking good care of yourself and your loved ones.

Recognize that people experiencing the same event or loss will process it differently, which is very challenging for family members. Each of us tends to have a preferred way to cope with intense feelings. If we don’t know or understand how the people closest to us cope with feelings, it may seem they are callous or rude or inconsiderate.

As hard as it might be, try to talk with each other before the season goes any further about what you are feeling and what you need to get through the holidays. It might mean time to talk, more alone or together time, visiting a grave, less spending, setting an empty place at the dinner table, making an ornament in honor of a deceased family member.

It is OK to let your children know at an age appropriate level that the holidays are different this year. It is OK to tell they why. It is OK to tell children that you are experiencing strong emotions, also, assuring them that you are a grown-up and will take care of yourself. When children see you able to experience, express and regulate emotions in a healthy way, they learn to do this themselves.

If, for whatever reason, you find it hard to be merry, I invite you to be honest with yourself and your family or friends. Looks for healthy ways to honor the reality of your feelings within the context of your family traditions. Know that we, at Aurora Family Service are here to assist you and your family.

Aurora Family Service helps families overcome challenges, changes and crisis to live well again. We achieve stability and strength for families through counseling, parenting, elder care, financial, career, health and community services.  For more information, visit our website, follow us on Facebook, or call 1-414-342-4560

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