Bonnie Carroll: Surviving The Holidays – December 15, 2010

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The holiday season is upon us. This can be a time of joy and belonging for some people, but the gathering of family and old friends can also trigger feelings of frustration, shame, inadequacy, jealousy, and conflicts that may steam back to last year or even decades past.

What are the holidays without a little drama? That is if you’re lucky enough to still be connected with the people who can trigger your old issues.

At these times, it’s good to remember that you are responsible for your emotions and reactions. Don’t give anyone else the power to affect how you feel and what you do.

Try to avoid getting too stressed about what’s coming. You don’t need to do it all. Let go of your expectations and try to remember that you can only do what you can do and let the rest go. This is a time of year when it’s important to be kind to yourself.

Remember that the root of disappointment is expectation. Be realistic. Don’t try to live up to the myth you see on TV or great memories you have of past holidays.

When you start getting stressed out, take a break and do some grounding exercises. Take deep breaths, relax your muscles, and remind yourself of what’s really important.

Try to stay in the present and not the past or the future. Remember that doing everything perfectly is not as important as being present and enjoying the process.

It’s also helpful to accept and appreciate your family and friends as they are, even if they don’t live up to your expectations. Try to be understanding if others get uptight, upset or distressed at this time of year.

Remember that they may be feeling the effects of holiday stress, triggers of past issues, and depression as well.

While many of us gather with family and old friends, there are some people who spend the holidays alone or only with new friends.

They may have lost family members, feel detached and maybe even estranged. Their feelings of loss are highlighted at this time of year. They may even dread the holidays and find them sad and depressing.

If you are feeling sad and depressed, it is important to acknowledge your feelings.

If you can’t be with your loved ones, are estranged from family or friends, or if someone close to you has died, it’s normal to feel sadness and grief. It’s OK to cry and express your feelings.

Don’t try to force yourself to be happy just because it’s the holiday season. But at the same time, it’s also important to not to isolate yourself or let your depression suffocate you.

If you are feeling alone, look for activities you can participate in. Reach out to others who are also feeling alone. It may be good to attend some community, religious or other social events. These events offer support and companionship.

Volunteering your time to help others is another good way to lift your spirits, make new friends, and feel a sense of connection to other people.

Look around you and make the best out of what is here and now.

Try not to let what is missing prevent you from continuing to live your life. Say a little prayer for the absent people you love and wish them well. Then wish yourself well.

Don’t let the holidays become something just to dread. Instead, take steps to reduce the stress and depression that can descend during this time.

With a little planning and some positive thinking, you may find that you enjoy the holidays this year more than you thought you could.

It is helpful to take care of yourself. Make sure you are eating a balanced diet of wholesome and nutritious foods.

Remember that exercise is a great treatment for both depression and anxiety. Do things to nurture yourself and that help you feel good and balanced. Remember what feeds your soul and take time for those activities.

If you are one of the many who are feeling a little lost, sad, anxious, irritable, hopeless and just unable to face life, you may want to consider seeing a therapist in our community.

It may be helpful to talk about your feelings and develop more coping strategies.

The North Coast Association of Mental Health Providers has a fairly comprehensive list of local therapists.

Visit its website at to search for a therapist that will be a good fit for you.

Bonnie Carroll is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker with a counseling practice in McKinleyville. Contact her directly at

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