VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) — As we head deeper into the holiday season, the anticipation of parties and presents grows. However, while many feel happy and excited, others struggle to cope with loss and hard times.
“You get out of the holidays what you put into them,” said Stefanie Newman, a licensed professional counselor with Thriveworks in Virginia Beach.
Newman has been helping people focus on their mental wellness throughout the pandemic. It’s a pandemic that, for many families, has taken the life of a loved one.
“When we’re dealing with a loss, even something as serious as the loss of a child, self-care really is the most important thing…If now is the time to grieve, then now has to be the time to grieve and celebrations can still happen later, even in January, February, March, right? The spirit is what we put into it, and so if grieving is the most important thing right now, it’s not like we’ve missed the boat on celebrating family, or celebrating togetherness or happiness. Again, we may just need to change the way that looks on the surface, but we can’t be festive and celebrating if we have to process this loss first. It’s not fair to families, their loved ones, or even the lost person to not have that time to grieve,” said Newman.
Self-care at this time of year, while necessary, isn’t the easiest take to accomplish. So, Newman suggests focusing on your mental energy.
“An analogy that I use with my clients a lot is that our mental energy is kind of like a glass of water, and so we pour water out whenever we do things that take energy from us, going to work, dealing with conflicts, things like that. Put water back in when we spend time with loved ones, do our hobbies, things like that. So, if you notice that things are harder for you that used to not be hard, the way that we talk about it is that you don’t really have any water left in your cup. So, that’s the first thing that I look for. If something that used to not bother you is suddenly beginning to bother you, that’s probably not the issue. The issue is you probably don’t have enough energy to spend on it.”
As much as we’d like to focus on holiday cheer and magic, finances play a role in the season as well. If you’re struggling financially because of job loss or other reasons, you may be feeling stress build.
“Psychologically speaking, spending money on experiences rather than material gifts tends to provide longer lasting happiness. So, that’s my number one tip to everybody regardless of what they’re going through. If you can provide meaningful experiences for kids, parents, significant others, they tend to remember that stuff more. I don’t remember what I got for Christmas when I was eight. I remember the games we played at the holidays or trips that we took or going to see relatives,” said Newman.
This therapist says if money is tight, whatever you do, don’t weaponize Santa.
“If a child hears this year that ‘Hey, you weren’t good enough to get that thing from Santa,’ and they actually had a really good year going into the next year sometimes really effects their motivation. Well, I tried really hard last year, and I didn’t get it, so why should I try this year?”
In the end, give yourself some grace. Feel your feelings, and don’t compare yourself and your family to others.
“Just really encourage people to follow their gut, honestly, and what’s right for them is probably what’s right for their family, even if it’s not right for the person next to them.”