The holiday season can be a stressful time for anyone, between cooking, shopping or entertaining guests, and especially so for those celebrating the holidays for the first time since the death of a loved one.
Local counseling professionals offer some practical tips that can help minimize the stress that can accompany the holidays.
Kimberly Peters, a board-certified behavior analyst and former therapist, said acknowledging your feelings is the first step in dealing with any type of stress.
“You should look on the bright side and you should be positive and find things to be happy about not at the expense of denying your feelings,” Peters said. “Don’t dwell on it and act like it didn’t happen.”
Sharon Pleasant, a licensed professional counselor, said early planning is a good stress reliever going into the holiday season.
“Have a plan even before the holidays come up so that you’re already being intentional on finding out different things you can do,” Pleasant said. “Finding out how you can be able to be successful the best way you can during the holiday season.”
Jessica Williams, a Ruston-based licensed professional counselor, said self-care is important, regardless of what’s going on.
“One of my biggest (pieces of) advice that I’ve been talking to my clients about moving into the season is, regardless of how busy the calendar is, is that you are prioritizing time for yourself,” Williams said. “Prioritize time to do the things that you enjoy whether it’s exercising, taking a long bath, reading. A lot of times we’ll say, ‘I don’t have time for that’ but you have to make time for that. I always use the imagery of a watering can. If all you’re doing is pouring out, pouring out, pouring out, taking care of everyone else, cooking meals, wrapping gifts, decorating, attending Christmas parties but if you’re not taking time to refill that watering can, it’s just going to run empty and dry.”
Part of that self-care, Williams said, is making sure the busy holiday season does not get too busy.
“You don’t have to attend every Christmas party,” Williams said. “You don’t have to have every decoration, or you don’t have to cook every side dish yourself. It’s ok to say no to things even through the holidays.”
Lisa Longenbaugh, a licensed professional counselor and licensed marriage and family therapist, said managing family expectations can be a stressor during the holidays. Longenbaugh said family can be an enormous blessing and invaluable resource, but also a great source of distress.
“When dealing with family members, setting boundaries can help everyone involved know what is expected and what will not be tolerated,” Longenbaugh. “Whether it be making your own schedule, telling someone how things will be different this year, or simply saying ‘No,’ setting boundaries and being your own boss can help with stress and guilt.”
Longenbaugh said a potential holiday stressor that may not immediately come to mind involves families who have experienced violence.
“Many are faced with balancing keeping one’s self safe (whether physically or emotionally) while still allowing children to enjoy time with extended family when it is safe for them to do so,” Longenbaugh said. “One client has been processing this in counseling recently. She recently got out of an abusive 10-year relationship with the father of her child. His parents have dealt a lot of psychological and emotional damage to her over the years, and she knows how difficult it will be to be around them in the coming months. However, she doesn’t want to deprive her daughter of holiday time with her grandparents.”
Longenbaugh said finding a solution that balances all of these considerations can be difficult and it may be helpful to have a supportive person with whom you can talk through the possibilities and plan for safety.
Money issues can overwhelm individuals and families during this time of year. Longenbaugh said people want to give to the their families and children but trying to do that and make ends meet can be daunting.
“Make a budget for what all you will need for the holidays and try your best to stick to it,” Longenbaugh said. “It may not be worth over-extending yourself and then having to pay for it later.”
Dealing with the loss of a loved one
Celebrating the holidays for the first time after the death of a loved one can bring up more sadness, which can add more stress and lead to isolation and loneliness.
Feelings of grief and loss often compounded around the holidays, according to Longenbaugh.
“If someone close to you has recently died or you can’t be with loved ones for other reasons, realize that it’s normal o feel sadness and grief,” Longenbaugh said. “It’s OK to take time to cry or express your feelings. You can’t force yourself to be happy just because it’s the holiday season.”
Williams said acknowledge the grief and remember the positive memories that you shared with your deceased loved one.
“We all have a tendency to stuff it down and ignore it and get through the season, but it’s still there,” Williams said. “Give yourself a little bit of grace and time to prioritize yourself and try to honor those memories and that loved one this season.”
Pleasant said give yourself time when grieving and acknowledge your feelings.
“Don’t judge yourself for even grieving,” Pleasant said. “Understand that you can honor that loved one even if they’re not there. Talk through things and understand that grief comes in waves. There’s no particular time that you can set a time that you’re going to be grieving. It hits at certain times and remember to take one day at a time.”
Longenbaugh said it is important to reach out if you’re feeling lonely or isolated.
“Local groups, churches, or other community organizations have support groups or opportunities to engage; virtually, websites, social media sites or virtual events can offer support and companionship,” Longenbaugh said. “If you’re feeling the stress during the holidays, it also may help to talk to a friend or family about your concerns. Try reaching out with a text, a call or video chat.”
In addition to the general considerations around holiday stressors, Longenbaugh said it is also important to keep in mind the impact that COVID continues to have on our holiday traditions and traditions.
“For some, COVID is the first thing that comes to mind when thinking of holiday stressors,” Longenbaugh said. “Many continue to struggle with weighing the pros and cons of celebrating with family this year. It’s a very difficult choice to make when you or someone close to you is high risk. When you have family members who aren’t particularly impacted or concerned about COVID, it can create additional complications; they’re less likely to take safety precautions during a gathering and more likely to pressure you to attend.”
Longenbaugh encourages people to reach out to a counselor or professional help if you are struggling and your coping mechanisms don’t seem to be effective.
Here is a list of available resources for individuals needing counseling services:
- ULM Marriage and Family Therapy Clinic, Strauss Hall, 500 Bayou Drive, 318-342-5678
- Thriveworks Counseling, 601 N 5th Street Suite 210, 318-257-6265
- Finding Solace, 403 N 6th Suite #2, 318-737-7201
- Restored Counseling and Consultations, 1900 N 18th Street Suite 412, 318-625-6201
- First West Counseling Center, 212 Cypress Street, 318-322-1427
- Christian Counseling Center, 3201 N 7th Street, 318-396-8152
- Strategic Counseling Solutions, 2106 N 7th Street Suite #132, 318-450-8719
- Wellspring Alliance for Families, 1904 Royal Avenue, 318-651-9314
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 800-273-8255
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