Love shouldn’t hurt – ever

It’s the Most Stressful Time of the Year
by Teresia Smith

This time of year, you can feel the excitement building. Parties, special services, concerts, dinners, decorating, cooking ….spending time with those dear to us. However, especially if you are a survivor of a traumatic event, sometimes the holiday season often brings a couple of unwelcome guests — stress and depression.

The holidays can bring an array of extra demands to your already busy life — cooking special meals, shopping for gifts, baking Christmas treats, cleaning and entertaining others, to name just a few. Using some practical tips, you can help to minimize the stress that accompanies the holidays. You may even end up enjoying the holidays more than you thought you would.
The Mayo Clinic has some tips to help prevent holiday stress and depression. When you are gripped by stress, it’s hard to stop and regroup. It’s best if you can prevent stress and depression in the first place, especially if the holidays have taken an emotional toll on you in the past. Here are some ideas to try:

Acknowledge your feelings. If someone close to you has recently died or you can’t be with loved ones for other reasons, realize that it’s normal to feel sadness and grief. If your life has been turned upside down due to domestic violence or sexual assault, it’s okay to take time to cry or express your feelings. You can’t force yourself to be happy just because it’s the holiday season. Give yourself permission to experience your feelings.
Reach out. If you feel lonely or isolated, seek out community, religious or other social events. There are online support groups, social media sites or virtual events that can offer support and companionship. It also may help to talk to a friend or family member about how you are feeling. Many families would welcome you to join their gathering.

Volunteering your time or doing something to help others also is a good way to lift your spirits and broaden your friendships. One of my best memories is serving meals in a homeless shelter. You always gain much from serving others in need.
Be realistic. The holidays will never be perfect or even like years past. As families change, traditions often change as well. Be open to creating new traditions. If your relatives can’t come to your home, find new ways to celebrate together, such as sharing pictures, emails or videos. Or meet virtually on a video call. Even though your holiday plans may look different this year, you can find ways to celebrate.

Show compassion. Try to accept others as they are, even if they don’t live up to your expectations. And try to be understanding if others seem upset or distressed. Chances are they’re feeling the effects of holiday stress and depression, too.
Stick to a budget. Money is a huge stressor. Before you do any shopping, decide how much money you can afford to spend. Then stick to your budget. Don’t try to buy happiness with an avalanche of gifts. What you spend in December will affect your new year! Instead of stressing over finding a perfect gift, some other ideas are making a donation in someone’s name, making handmade gifts, or even start a gift exchange. Growing up, we always put everyone’s name in a bowl and drew one name out so we only purchased one gift each. Part of the fun was keeping the secret of what name you had drawn.
Plan ahead. Set aside specific days for shopping, baking, connecting with friends and other activities. Consider whether you can shop online for any of your items. Plan your menus and then make your shopping list. That’ll help prevent last-minute scrambling to buy forgotten ingredients. And make sure to line up help for meal prep and cleanup.
Take a breather. Above all, schedule some down time to relax and practice self-care. Make some time for yourself. Find an activity you enjoy. Take a break by yourself. Spending just 15 minutes alone, without distractions, may refresh you enough to handle everything you need to do. Find something that reduces stress by clearing your mind, slowing your breathing and restoring inner calm.

Seek professional help if you need it. Despite your best efforts, you may find yourself feeling persistently sad or anxious, plagued by physical complaints, unable to sleep, irritable and hopeless, and unable to face routine chores. If these feelings last for a while, talk to your doctor or a mental health professional.
Don’t let the holidays become something you dread. Instead, take control of the holidays and have a strategy to prevent the stress and depression that can arrive during the holidays. Learn to recognize your holiday triggers and plan ahead how to deal with them. With a little preparation and some positive thinking, it is possible to find peace and joy during the holidays.

If you are a survivor of domestic violence or sexual assault, chances are you deal with stress or depression at various times. The holidays can be an extra stressful time for you and we want you to know you aren’t alone. Crisis Services of North Alabama offers free and confidential services to domestic violence and sexual assault survivors. We offer crisis counseling, court advocacy, access to safe shelter and more. You may reach our Jackson County office at 256.574.5826. We also offer a 24/7 HELPline, where you can speak with trained crisis counselors anytime at 256.716.1000. You are not alone.

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