5 Ways to Help Your Grinch Navigate the Holidays

5 Ways to Help Your Grinch Navigate the Holidays

The holiday season is supposed to be joyful, but we all know the stress that can come along with finding the right gifts, hosting gatherings, managing blended families that include significant others, spouses, ex-spouses, in-laws and maybe even former in-laws that are, after all, grandparents, and trying to please everyone which is virtually impossible.

Add to all that the emotionally charged memories this time of year brings when important people with whom we used to share holidays are no longer with us. Financial concerns can become more prominent too when we want the holiday gifts and celebrations to meet expectations. And finally the shorter days and less daylight have an adverse effect on many people. Those with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) can experience some extreme symptoms. Even for people who don’t suffer from clinical depression, this time of year can be very difficult (read more about Holiday Depression: Statistics & How to Deal from Healthline).

I have been accused at times of not liking the holidays. That is not really accurate. I learned years ago how to navigate the last six weeks of the year in the least stressful way possible. Of course that was many years before losing my parents and aunt and uncle with whom I shared holidays all of my life. That was before my cancer diagnosis (read more about cancer & depression) which made me appreciate my own mortality, and my husband’s suicide that ended holiday celebrations as I had known them for over 20 years. And still, I found ways to make the most of the holidays. Although, admittedly I have my moments of despair.

I really try. I start listening to Christmas music when I’m in the car by myself as soon as SiriusXM Holly goes live. I put up the decorations Thanksgiving weekend and even gave in last year when my daughter wanted them up earlier. I attend parties and I’ve throw parties. What I’ve also done for many of the Christmases since my husband died is go away for the week that encompasses Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and his birthday. That’s what worked for us. Being in Chicago is now a permanent escape of sorts, although the holidays can still be difficult emotionally.

The one gift all of this has brought me is a new sense of empathy. While I can at times wallow in the holidays can be difficult self-pity, I can also appreciate that everyone is also dealing with a whole myriad of things that can make the holidays challenging. For people with clinical depression, this extremely difficult month can be even more arduous. If you know anyone who suffers from depression or anxiety or may be grieving the loss of a loved one this holiday season, reach out. Don’t let people be lonely. Look for ways to share the holidays in a way that is comfortable for them.

If you are dealing with grief and loss this holiday season, read my 7 Ways to Survive the Holidays after loss. If you are dealing with someone close to you that may seem like your own Grinch, pleased don’t judge. They may be fighting an internal battle of which you are not aware. Instead, I offer you this:

1. Recognize that for some, the holidays can be extremely difficult, and bring on enormous sadness.

2. Understand these feelings are real and like depression at any time of the year, can’t be willed away.

3. Help your friends and loved ones avoid social isolation. If big celebrations are overwhelming for them, find other smaller ways you can socialize and stay connected.

4. Don’t pressure them to do things they find uncomfortable, but do encourage self-care (meditation, massage, exercise) to cope with stress, and to seek professional assistance (therapist, doctor) if needed. And of course, if someone is suicidal (there’s no harm in asking them if they are!) contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255), or call 9-1-1. Do not leave them alone.

5. Be present for them, let them talk. Don’t feel you need to solve their problems (you can’t); just listen, and make sure they know you care.

Here’s to making the best of the holiday season for everyone including the Grinch!

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How to close out the holiday season and start the New Year

How to close out the holiday season and start the New Year

The close of this year also marks for me six months in Chicago. Our first holiday season in the new city involved trying on new traditions, moving out of our comfort zones, and reviewing what I’ve achieved with this move and setting an agenda for the next six months. Read more

New city. New traditions.

New city. New traditions.

The tradition in our family was to put the holiday decorations up after Thanksgiving. Never earlier. They stay up until January 6 (“Little Christmas” or the Feast of the Epiphany), although when I was working full-time outside the home, I’d put them all away on New Year’s Day in order to feel a fresh start going back to work on the 2nd. Once my daughter came along and developed an opinion, she objected to both. Read more

A Time to Celebrate Friends

A Time to Celebrate Friends

Did you create your year-end FaceBook video? I liked that it highlighted the new friends I made this year – and I was especially proud that they were actually new friends. They were people that I didn’t know at all last year. Additionally they are people that I genuinely and personally interacted with off line! Read more

Nollaig shona dhuit!

Nollaig shona dhuit!

Merry Christmas to you! From Ireland. For the first time since my second Christmas…1966…50 years ago…I am spending Christmas in Ireland! This trip was hatched back in July, although it’s probably been in the making all my life. Since finding my biological family over 20 years ago, I had considered the idea as “some year we should…” but other things – and people – kept me in North America and at home in New Jersey most years.

The first year without her father, my daughter and I fled to Cancun for Christmas week with  his mom. There were some redeeming attributes to that trip, for me at least, but my girl said she’d never travel with Grandma again. I honestly should have learned from the 11-day Caribbean Cruise we had taken together for Christmas 10 years earlier. The Mexico trip two years ago, while providing some escape from a holiday table with an empty chair, reminded me too much of the cruise which at times made me sadder. If anything Chris and I were always united against his mother. So a few times when she said something odd, I found myself turning to roll my eyes at someone who was no longer there.

So we were in agreement, no more trips with Grandma. And my daughter said she liked Christmas at home better anyway. Last year we made dinner reservations at The Rock Center Cafe. Essentially home. A quintessential New York City Christmas! Except that it was 70 degrees. And a city packed with people still felt a little empty.

The pros and cons of escaping for Christmas came up in a conversation in July. She admitted that “Christmas at home” didn’t necessarily mean our home, but someone’s home. Christmas was a family holiday. And that’s when she said it, “why can’t we spend Christmas in Ireland.” I couldn’t think of a good reason not to, and a great deal on airfare solidified the plans.

So here we are.

I have had some guilt about not including Grandma in our holidays. Then someone posted this article on FaceBook Surviving the Holidays: 12 Tips for the Grieving. Author Michelle Steinke-Baumgard advises, “be honest with those in your life. Tell them if family time hurts, if you feel lonely in a room full of people who love you. You are allowed those emotions. They are powerful, and they are real.”

So I have accepted the idea that I need to deal with the holidays in a way that is most appropriate for me and my daughter. That’s my biggest responsibility. My former mother-in-law probably feels the same about spending the holidays with me. She declined my dinner invitation Thanksgiving weekend. Change is hard. Especially when it’s about people that are gone. So, so many people that have been part of my Christmases are no longer here. Even the nun that cared for me in Ireland in 1966 has been gone for years now.

It’s better though to live in the present. To feel the bagpipes outside the Church of the Sacred Heart last night when we arrived for Christmas Eve mass. To open presents with my sister’s family. I don’t feel lonely in a room full of people who love me (or a barn full of 43 cows and 5 little calves). This is 2016. We have a big family here in Ireland. And it’s nice to be home.

Shehill Holstein, Couraguneen, County Tipperary, Ireland. Christmas Day, 2016.