By Dr. Robin F. Goodman, PhD
The winter holidays seem to follow fast on the heels of the September 11th anniversary. Like many occasions, they can be an exciting time for some and a challenging one for others. There are an abundance of public reminders about the holidays – at places of worship, in shopping malls, in the mail, at school, and at work – that may trigger thoughts of holidays past. Whether you celebrate Thanksgiving, Hanukah, Christmas, or Kwanzaa, there is a private aspect to every holiday that should be honored and those impacted by 9/11 should do what feels best. Whether the holidays are particularly difficult because they are upsetting, or if you are feeling hopeful but stressed because they are hectic, here are some suggestions for getting through the season:
Plan ahead: Making plans for the holidays requires thinking back to what has and has not worked in the past and what you might want to do differently. Often the biggest hurdle to overcome is just starting. Making even a small plan can be a relief and get things going.
Pace yourself: The holidays are often more than one day – there are parties, gifts, gatherings, travel, religious services. Choose what you want to do and what you feel good about doing.
Be forgiving: Once decisions are made you should feel confident in your choices. If plans change, if you change your mind, or if things don’t work out, be forgiving of yourself and others.
Be accepting: Individuals manage the holidays, stress, and their 9/11 related feelings in different ways. People also express their feelings in different ways and how they present on the outside may not be how they truly feel on the inside. Relationships also evolve and change over time, so what worked when children were small, or when extended family were near by, may need to be revised.
Keep expectations real: Everyone’s situation is different and reality is likely different from the perfect holidays portrayed on television and in movies. Decide and visualize what you will do for certain activities and what will happen; from who cooks to how people get along. Have realistic goals – go to one party, decorate store bought cookies, schedule one fun holiday activity with the kids.
Involve others: Give everyone a chance to talk about how they are feeling, what is most important, and what they want to do for the holidays – kids included. Make plans together, ideally leaving some room for individual preferences. Enlist your support system to help with activities you predict will be difficult. Accept help – you get what you need and you let someone else feel good about giving.
Find a calm zone: All the rushing and commitments can take its toll. Know when and how to take a break. Activities that allow you to recharge should be a priority - scented candles, tea with a friend, keeping to an exercise schedule, not answering the phone, are some of the many ways to manage stress, handle difficult feelings, and feel more in control.
Help kids: Parents should find ways to balance children and teens’ participation in festive activities with everyday routine. Keep in mind that children of all ages need and appreciate gifts of time and attention too. Remember to help children give to others as well.
Create and maintain meaning: Think about what to maintain while respecting everyone’s wishes. Repeating either some or all of previous traditions can be comforting. But creating and establishing new ones can be helpful at times. Consider ways to embrace the past, perhaps with a retelling of favorite stories, eating favorite foods, or visiting favorite places as a way to acknowledge someone special. Helping others in need can also add valuable meaning at holiday time.
Give thanks for small or large accomplishments you and your family have made this year. Reflect on what and who has helped you get through rough times in the past and envision wishes for joyous times ahead.