SHERIDAN – For a healthy person under stress, for someone coping with the fallout from a worldwide pandemic and its impacts on day-to-day life, there is room for tears.
“There is also room for laughter,” said Alicia Clark, a clinical psychologist and owner of Big Horn Psychological Services. “For some reason, in the day of 24/7 news that seems to want to draw people’s attention through gravitas, and in the era of political correctness, people are afraid to laugh anymore. Laughing at oneself or the overwhelming saga of life is a wonderful skill. Laughter is good, when it is about genuinely funny things that we can all appreciate about being human.”
This holiday season, Clark recommended several ways to manage stress or feelings of sadness or disappointment.
- Consider your personality in trying to find the best way forward. A one-size-fits-all approach for creating meaning will not work for everyone. Holiday music and decorations might be uplifting for some people, but others might struggle with outwardly-focused holiday trappings.
“If people can embrace that this is going to be different and hard, that can help, because if they try to ignore it, it makes them depressed. They are not allowing themselves to grieve or get frustrated,” Clark said.
- Consider resilience. It’s OK to be down about not seeing your family, but find intentionality and meaning by looking inward, Clark said.
“I would encourage you to be very reflective,” Clark said. “Realistically, there isn’t going to be a year like this one again, so find a sense of the beauty in overcoming the struggle.”
That could come from a hobby, or taking up painting or poetry. It may come from faith, or time spent in worship. It can come from honoring your friendships and family relationships, even from a distance.
- Embrace change, however hard.
“If you can say, ‘Here is my challenging 2020 Christmas,’ you can begin to move forward,” Clark said. “Some people just really hate the change. I am one of those. It is not an easy thing to realize that change is a part of life, and definitely a part of this year.”
- Practice gratitude. Gratitude is not a feeling, but an attitude or a perspective. To practice gratitude, deliberately focus on the things you are grateful for, and then put weight or value into the thought by either expression or action. Following those actions, the feeling of appreciation occurs, which combats depression or self-pity.
However, if someone around you feels hopeless, it’s not a good idea to say there is nothing to be hopeless about — a hopeless person can always think of discouraging things.
The more helpful perspective is: “I may feel hopeless right now, but in the middle of this, I’m drawing to mind the things I’m so thankful for. I have this person in my life, I have this job, I have my health, I have these muscles, I get to enjoy this food, I can enjoy this painting, I love the look of the stars tonight,” Clark said.
Even being grateful for life’s challenges can be healthy, Clark said, because sometimes they help you appreciate other things more.
“It is not an ideal year, but when you can do things for others and push yourself through, if you have that capacity, it is really going to help,” she said.
Simple acts of kindness like standing on the street corner in your nuclear family and singing Christmas carols or leaving groceries outside for someone who is in quarantine are both examples. Helping others can get your mind off your own sadness.
- If you’re struggling with depression, anxiety, substance abuse or other mental health issues, get help.
“I would not hesitate to get help,” Clark said. “The holiday season is a high-suicide time, and this year alcoholism and depression have gone significantly higher. It really does help to be proactive in saying, ‘This Christmas might be tougher than normal. I better get help, even if it is just a few sessions to have someone you really can talk to.’ That can be a real game changer for some people, and I would honestly do that now before the holidays.”