As you know, the holiday season is quickly approaching and although the storybook image is that of a happy and joyous occasion, for many the reality lies elsewhere– especially for those living in poverty. Stress, depression and even relapse of drug and alcohol abuse this time of year can manifest for several reasons: social isolation, economic pressures, family tensions, grief and loss, substance abundance, and unrealistic expectations all contribute to feelings of loneliness, anxiety, sadness, and even irritability. Understanding the source of one’s stress and practicing self-care can go a long way in helping many individuals make it through the hustle and bustle of holiday stress.
Many are disconnected from loved ones, either by distance or estrangement due to unhealthy family dynamics. Sometimes, years of family conflict will further alienate members from the connectedness that the holidays are all about. These experiences can create longing and despair, which are at odds with what we often see on social media and television; family togetherness, songs, laughter… this is not the reality for so many and can lead to disillusionment and faulty expectations.
Living in poverty can add yet another layer of stress during the holidays and poses other risks on individuals’ health. Those who live in poverty may have less social support and other barriers to receiving services in times of hardship. Furthermore, lack of financial resources make it difficult to met basic needs, much less withstand the pressures of gifting when one really cannot afford to.
“Substance abundance” is at the forefront for many as we enter the holiday season. So many equate alcohol and other substances with the celebration on the holidays. For many who struggle with disordered alcohol and substance use, these seemingly innocent activities serve as triggers to using and may contribute to relapse. All in the spirit of wanting to be connected, those who relapse can find themselves in the vicious cycle of addiction during a time that is supposed to be joyous.
What can we do to buffer ourselves from the holiday blues and perpetual stress? Employing some of these ideas can go a long way to combating these common experiences that so many suffer from:
Family is one resource that may be readily and easily accessed. If family is not an option, call a friend and ask to get together for coffee of lunch, or even a brief visit. If this is not possible, go to a local church or support group, or call the warm line at (414) 257-5775. Seek out opportunities to volunteer, as this is often the best way to cultivate gratitude and connectedness.
Avoid social media that promotes materialism and indulgence
Instead, prepare a basic meal with ingredients that are basic and simple to obtain. Invite a neighbor for a meal and share a good story!
Make gifts from the heart
Giving does not have to cost anything, or perhaps cost very little. Homemade cards, cookies, arts and crafts, or woodwork adds a personal touch to gifting, and those who receive are usually moved!
Write a letter
Write a letter to someone you have not spoken to in a while, or an important figure in your life. It does not necessarily need to be delivered. Allow the letter to express what this person as taught you, and perhaps include elements of gratitude for the relationship.
Explore new music
Explore new genres of music and play throughout the house.
Enjoy quiet time
Enjoy quiet time listening to the snow, rain, or wind through the trees. Meditate on the sounds or simply the silence.
That’s right… nature’s antidepressant! Exercise releases endorphins in the brain and will elevate feelings of well-being and optimism!
No matter how young or old, wealthy or poor, bold or timid, we all go through struggles and we all share in this human experience. No person is an island unto themselves. Be willing to share, seek help, try new behaviors, new ways of thinking! After all, it is in celebrating life and each other that we grow as human beings.