For parents recovering from anxiety and depression, "the most wonderful time of the year" can become a disheartening reminder of past struggles, trauma, heart aches, and disappointments.
Wondering what to do with the kids when they are out of school, the family obligations, how you are going to pay for all the presents, can all add up to even more mounting stress. Feelings and thoughts that have been worked through, dealt with, and overcome can return once again; unwanted house guests in parents’ thoughts and minds.
Simple strategies to help during the holidays:
1. It is not uncommon for old feelings and thought patterns to resurface during holidays and stressful times. Reoccurrence does not mean relapse.
2. Do not rely on your external radar for "feeling stressed." Sometimes we are not aware of the amount of stress we are holding and experiencing during the holidays. Good changes, old patterns, and new experiences can all cause stress on the body and mind.
3. Be pro-active. Build in self-soothing and self-care time each day. Make it a priority, even if you don't feel that you need it. Eat healthy, walk daily or do moderate exercise, read inspirational quotes or passages, and once a day involve all of your senses in an activity that calms and soothes.
4. Be mindful of your thoughts and feelings. If any of the old thought patterns or feeling resurface, lean into the skills that you learned in therapy. Take out your old worksheets or educational material and re-read them. Go through your list of coping strategies and actively and consciously employ them again.
5. Remember that recovery from anxiety and depression is a journey and follows the same pattern of recovery and learning of new skills, as all others: uphill climb, with dips and valleys. Lean into your skills and turn back toward that uphill trajectory.
6. If you have tried all of the above and those unwanted guests are still not getting the hint to leave, reach out to your trusted therapist or counselor. A tune up, check-in, encouragement session may be the added support that you need. As always, if you have feelings of self-harm or not wanting to be around, immediately contact your current mental health professional or call the national lifeline at 1-800-273 TALK (8255).
Catherine Gruener, M.A., M.A., LCPC, NCC, BC-TMH, PDTC
Catherine Gruener is a licensed clinical professional counselor, national certified counselor, board certified in telemental health and Positive Discipline, with a master’s degree in neuropsychology and a second master’s degree in professional counseling. With over 2 decades of experience in the mental health field, Catherine founded Gruener Consulting and Encouragement Parenting to positively affect the health and well-being of parents. Catherine and her colleagues provide counseling, psychotherapy and parent training in Illinois.