Sometimes, the holidays bring on the blues

Published 11:59 pm Friday, November 27, 2009

While the holidays are usually a time of joy and happiness, some Americans suffer stress and grief during the holiday season. But as one local expert points out, it’s all right to have “holiday anxiety;” the key is how you deal with it.

Dr. Windell Williamson is a professional counselor and psychotherapist in Opp, and he said the holidays are one of the busiest times of the year for him.

“I think it’s a combination of things,” Williamson said. “First, it’s winter so there’s not as much sunshine, and that makes some people sad. Then, you have the stress and headache from all the shopping and decorations and things. And finally, because Thanksgiving and Christmas are always family times, it’s hard for people who might be celebrating that first holiday after a loved one has passed away.”

Williamson said holidays often remind people of “who or what is missing from their lives,” and it can be difficult for some to deal with.

“They find difficulty being in the moment, or enjoying the moment,” he said. “They might be looking around the table and wondering, ‘Who’s not going to be here next year?’ I lost my mother recently, and I can say from experience … when you lose someone, then you start to worry about everyone else. You couldn’t reassure me that my dad would be fine, because then I would just say, ‘Then why wasn’t my mom fine?’”

Williamson said it is important for other members of the family to be supportive of someone who is grieving over a recent loss. He explained different people deal with grief in different ways, and it is important to be flexible of their desires.

“It’s important to talk about it, and everybody be on the same page as far as how to deal with the problem,” he said. “For some people, they like to keep the traditions. Maybe their recently deceased mother always cooked dressing and dumplings, and they want to cook those things and maintain the holiday. Then there are other people who don’t want to do the traditional thing, because it calls up so many hard memories.

“Maybe they want to take a trip to the coast or something for the holidays, rather than doing the large family meal thing. It’s important to talk about these things as a family ahead of time — Do we set up an empty chair at the table where mom used to sit, do we let someone else sit there, do we not have a chair there at all — that sort of thing.

“I think it’s healthy and a part of the natural healing process. The important thing is not to force anyone into doing anything they’re not comfortable with doing.”

Those dealing with grief during the holidays also have a local support team ready to help. The GriefShare recovery seminar and support group meets at First Baptist Church in Opp, each Thursday at 6 p.m. GriefShare features nationally recognized experts on grief and recovery topics. Seminar sessions include “The Journey of Grief,” “The Effects of Grief,” “When Your Spouse Dies,” “Your Family and Grief,” “Why?” and “Stuck in Grief.” For more information, call the church at 493-3235.

Williamson added that it is also common for stress to become a problem during the holiday season.

“We just tend to put pressure on ourselves to have everything ‘just so,’” he said. “I’ve seen that neuroticism ruin the holidays for people and their families, because everything has to be perfect and if it’s not then it’s a failure.”

He said one of the best ways to combat stress in the holidays is to “challenge your mindset.”

“Just re-examine those beliefs of yours, and question them,” Williamson said. “Look what’s underneath that pressure you put on yourself, those perfectionist tendencies. Try to find some ways to challenge that mindset — maybe even go out of the way to do something that’s not ‘absolutely perfect.’

“It’s important to remember the holidays are supposed to be a joyful time for family and friends. Sometimes we let all that other stuff take it over, and that should really all be secondary.”