Friday, December 27, 2013

5 Ways to Help Manage The Stress of The Holidays


By Laura Hull, LMFT
Coping Coach
 
This time of year is filled with lights, laughter, and loads of activities.  From the week of Thanksgiving through the end of New Year’s celebrations, this is the most active/busy time of the year for many people.  Though many regard this as a time of happy celebration, there is no doubt it is also a demanding time of the year.   Between decorating, holiday parties, shopping, wrapping, food preparations, family visits, etc., it can be stressful to navigate the expectations that come along with the holidays.  Sometimes the stress is enjoyable.  For some people, the stress is more anxiety provoking than pleasurable.
 
There is certainly an added social pressure to “enjoy” the holidays.  After all, why would anyone be anxious or depressed when everyone else is partying and enjoying the festivities of the season, right?    We are “supposed “ to be happy during the holidays.  But what if we aren’t?  Depression and anxiety during this season can be an intensified problem for individuals, particularly those who struggle throughout the year.   Individuals who struggle with the stresses surrounding the holidays often suffer in silence. There is a fear of being viewed as a “Debbie Downer”  or a “party pooper”.  No one wants to be seen as the person who does not enjoy Christmas.  Grinch.
 
This is a more common issue than is often recognized.  The holidays tend to bring out both the best and worst in people.  On the one hand, people can be very thoughtful, generous and giving during the holidays.  But it can also bring out the ugly side of stress.  Look no further than the Black Friday stampedes and the obligatory fistfights that breakout, and it is obvious that the holidays sweep in loads of stress.  The holidays have become bigger, more commercial, and more expensive.  If there’s ever a time to feel the pressure of “keeping up with Jones’s”, this is it.  The financial stress of the holiday season has worsened in recent years.  Everything is more expensive.  More people are unemployed or underemployed.  We feel the pressure to buy, buy, and buy.   We want to give our children the newest video games and other electronic equipment, whether or not we can actually afford them.  We worry about how we can pay for all these things.  We worry about the bills that will come due in January.  Stress.
 
Another area, which can be challenging during the holiday season, is family relationships.  For families that are feeling the strain of emotional distance and hurt feelings, the holidays can exacerbate problems already brewing.  In fairness, this is not always the case.  The holidays CAN be a time of reconciliation.  However, if that is the expectation, that the mere fact that the  “happy time of the year” is upon us will somehow smooth over existing problems, this is a set up for disappointment.  For individuals who do not have a family or close friends to celebrate the holiday season with, it can be a painful reminder of what is missing; perhaps what is longed for.  For individuals who are grieving the loss of someone special, whether through death or any type of physical/emotional separation, the holidays can be an excruciating reminder of what has been lost. 
 
When we find ourselves struggling with the stress of the holidays this year, there are ways to overcome it:
 
  1. We can give ourselves permission to say no.  Do not give in to the pressure to buy things we cannot afford.  It is ok to say “we cannot take on this stress of this expense”
  2. Do not feel the need to be the life of the party.  It is ok to turn down holiday invites.  Do not feel pressured into participating in activities.  Again, it’s ok to say “no”.  However, that being said, find a way to stay engaged with others in a way that is personally meaningful and do not allow isolation to set in.  Perhaps volunteering at a shelter or a children’s hospital would bring a greater sense of fulfillment than buying gifts or attending obligatory parties. This is a personal choice.
  3. We are not obligated to spend time with individuals who are toxic.   Yes, that includes family.  In a perfect world, all of our family relationships would be healthy and loving. But sometimes, this is not the case.  We are not obligated to subject ourselves to relationships that are destructive, even for the “sake of the season”.  Let me say that again:  We are not obligated to spend time with those who deliberately hurt us and attempt to take our joy.
  4. If we are struggling with stress in the form of anger, depression, or anxiety, it is important to acknowledge it and address it.  If it becomes debilitating, counseling is a great way to address these issues.  Sometimes, it may be necessary to also include a medical evaluations to see if other therapies would be appropriate., as well.
  5. Most importantly, we must not lose sight of the “reason for the season”.  I can promise you that God does not care if we have the latest trendy gadgets or the perfect holiday party outfit.   We put those pressures, those stresses, on ourselves. We have the power to release ourselves from these stresses.  If we can step away, even if just momentarily, from what we “think” the holidays should consist of, and really process what it is supposed to mean, things fall into place much easier.
 
 
 
 

Monday, December 16, 2013

Hurt for the Holidays

Managing the major grief of those who have major loss
 
By: Dwight Bain
 
Holidays are not always happy days, especially if you have experienced major loss. Think about it – if you lost a job or a house through foreclosure can you still have a Merry Christmas this year? Some people can manage the loss of material things because they rely on their savings, or extended family for support. But what about those who don’t have access to those resources – what do they do?
What about the wife of a man who cheats and leaves the marriage with another woman before the holiday. What do you say to someone who won’t have a happy family memory on December 25th, because she will be sharing her children with a new woman and her relatives while she sits in the marital home (which is missing half the furniture) alone.
Or think about the family who have to say goodbye to a beloved family pet because of age or illness. How can they celebrate a happy holiday without a trusted animal companion?  
Think about the mom and dad who lost a child this year to death. Is there any comfort for those who have lost a son or daughter? Is it any easier for those who had to bury their parents or a marriage partner?
Don’t forget those who experienced these type of major losses a year ago are coming up on the one year anniversary of feeling these devastating losses all over again. The anniversary of a traumatic time is almost as intense as when it first happened.
Is there any hope for a person to manage all of this major loss? I believe there is.
Loss is a part of life, but that doesn’t make the hurt any better. We all know that nothing is forever, but want the painful reality to stop for a few weeks every year over a cultural holiday tradition to create a break in the pressure. This isn’t harmful, in fact it’s common because not everyone is going to a funeral before Christmas, or waiting to be evicted from the home they have lived in for decades.
Many people don’t realize how hard it is on others because they are too busy celebrating having all their family together, eating great food and sharing wonderful gifts and experiences.
Maybe that’s what makes it so hard on others – that their neighbors are so happy, because when your life is crushed it is hard to celebrate with others who weren’t flattened by the tidal wave of grief that comes after a major loss.
Should some people stop celebrating because others are having a terrible time? Should you tone down your family having a good time so it doesn’t hurt others?
No, but everyone should remember the spiritual principle to “weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice”.
If you have friends or family who are struggling, be there for them. Encourage them, help them financially if you can – and the best way to do that is to invite them over to share the holiday experience together. Take action to push them past their false pride by challenging them to be part of your community. Taking away the loneliness is a wonderful gift to someone hurting and afraid. Giving another family joy at Christmas will bring you more value than anything you could buy at the mall.
This spiritual value of kindness is a powerful tool to help others manage their painful losses and it comes right out of the teaching of the Bible. Listen to these comforting words from Psalm 34.

4) I sought the Lord, and He heard me, And delivered me from all my fears.
 
6) This poor man cried out, and the Lord heard him, And saved him out of all his troubles.
 
7) The angel of the Lord encamps all around those who fear Him, And delivers them.
 
15) The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, And His ears are open to their cry.
 
17) The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears, And delivers them out of all their troubles.
 
18) The Lord is near to those who have a broken heart, And saves such as have a contrite spirit.
 
19) Many are the afflictions of the righteous, But the Lord delivers him out of them all.
 
 
Do you see the pattern?
 
In desperation call out to God, trust that God will never abandon you and wait on God. This process won’t get your job or house back, but it will give you peace inside. A deep spiritual peace that will give you the strength to press on through the toughest of times. And isn’t that what the angels sang about that first Christmas…. “Peace on Earth, Good will toward mankind.”
 
God promises peace, so if you or someone you love is shattered by grief this holiday season start with God and stay with God. I believe He will see you through the tough times of loss and pain to give you hope and peace. You can sing the songs of Christmas again with real joy – if you press on in your spiritual journey and share what you learned with others.
 
Press on friend. Press on.
 
 
About the author- Dwight Bain is dedicated to helping people achieve greater results. He is a Nationally Certified Counselor and Certified Life Coach in practice since 1984 with a primary focus on solving crisis events and managing major change.

Reprint Permission- If this article helped you, you are invited to share it with your own list at work or church, forward it to friends and family or post it on your own site or blog. Just leave it intact and do not alter it in any way. Any links must remain in the article. Please include the following paragraph in your reprint. "Reprinted with permission from the LifeWorks Group weekly eNews, (Copyright, 2004-2013), To subscribe to this valuable counseling and coaching resource visit www.LifeworksGroup.org

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The Relentless Pursuit of Grace: What I Learned From My Little Boy

By: Aaron Welch 

 

This will not be a fun article for me to write.  In fact, my heart hurts to even sit down and begin typing.  It's because I screwed up.  I mean.......I royally screwed up tonight.  If I could go somewhere and hide under a rock, I would.  Honestly, there was a moment tonight when I thought about packing a bag and just taking off to some hotel, rather than face my family.  In the past fifteen years or so, there have not been too many moments that I've been ashamed of....but tonight was one. 

 

If you ask anyone who knows me they will tell you that one of the greatest passions of my life is being a dad.  Honestly, it's the ONE thing I've always wanted to be.....a father.  I grew up idolizing my dad and the love and support I always felt from him was an anchor for me as I moved into adulthood.  I believe God used my dad to instill in me a deep, fiery passion to invest in the lives of my children and, additionally, into the lives of other kids as well. To that end, I have been a teacher, a counselor, a pastor, and a coach.  I love kids.  I love encouraging them, investing in them, teaching them......empowering them to grow and learn and improve.  But more than anything else....my heartfelt desire is to do that in the lives of my own children.  I do not take fatherhood lightly.  I've never been a perfect father (as if there is one) but I strive with every fiber of my being to be the best one I can be.  I want to pass on the legacy from my dad into the lives of my children, and hope that they will one day do the same.

 

And that's why tonight was just awful for me.  Without going into great detail, I will just say that I lost my temper with my son tonight and yelled at him in a way that I NEVER wanted to.  I have no excuses for it.  What he did wrong in no way merited the response that I gave.  I humiliated him in front of his peers and other parents.....something I vowed never to do.  Even as I write that, I feel nauseous and an overwhelming sense of shame.  If I could go back in time for just 3 hours, I would in a heartbeat.  But I can't.  And so my brain just keeps repeating the scenario in my head....as if one of these times it will turn out differently and I won't turn out to be such a jerk.  But every time I replay it, the ending is the same.  My son in tears, me devastated for bringing him to that point, my wife embarrassed of the situation and everyone else feeling awkward around us.  UGH!  An ugly, competitive side of me that I thought I got rid of years ago just reared its ugly head in a way that made me want to just quit life and run away. 

 

I did all the right things afterward, and meant each and every one.  I took my son aside and confessed that I had no excuse for talking to him that way.  I repented of it and asked him to please forgive me.  I emphasized that it was my fault, not his.  He is such a good-hearted boy and he told me it was okay and that he loved me and asked me to take him to get a smoothie, which I did.  But I didn't get one.....I didn't deserve one.  And the entire way home I felt like throwing up, running away, quitting life, hiding from anyone and everyone who had witnessed my sin. 

 

When we got home, I didn't feel any better.  If anything, I felt worse and ran quickly to the shower to hide.  I don't know why we think we can hide from our shame....it follows us wherever we go.  I tried to escape under the hot stream of water, hoping that my wife and son would forget about me and allow me to slip silently to bed.  Once again, my goal was to hide in the dark of the bedroom and under the covers.  But I have a good wife and she came to tell me dinner was ready and they were waiting for me to come eat.  And that's when I lost it.  Her gesture of love towards me when I felt more unlovable than ever overwhelmed me.  I began to sob, hiding my face from her and ranting on and on about how humiliated and ashamed I felt.  Through heaves of emotion I told her I couldn't go out to the living room and face her or my son....could not even eat with them.  I told her how much I didn't deserve to eat and that I had no idea how to recover from what had happened.  I honestly didn't know how to show my face.  In spite of her repeated requests for me to come eat, including telling me that my son was waiting for me, I begged her to leave and to tell him to go ahead and eat.  She told me she really wanted me to come out with them, but finally she left.  And I continued crying under a stream of hot water, not knowing how to ever show my face.

 

And then I saw him.  My little boy.....standing outside the shower silently.  I asked him if he had eaten and he said no.  I knew he was starving and told him to go ahead and eat.  He said, "that's okay" and stayed right there beside me.  Now I felt even worse and told him that I was okay and that I wanted him to go eat because I knew he was really hungry from working hard at practice.  He said he was okay and that he didn't want to eat without me.  I repeated that I was okay; that he should go eat and I would be out in a bit.  But he stayed and said, "daddy, you don't have to feel bad about what happened tonight.  I love you.  Won't you come eat with me?" 

 

What could I say?  His love wouldn't let me alone.  His grace was relentless.  In fact, just this very minute (while I am writing this article) he just came over and asked me if he could give me a hug.....and he did.  It was a long, heartfelt hug from a little boy that doesn't hug often.  He pursued me......while I was hiding in the shower.....while I was hiding behind this laptop.  I didn't deserve his grace, or his hug.....but he offered them anyway and I'm thankful he did. 

 

And then it hit me.  God had just used my little boy to teach me about His grace.  I can't tell you how many times I have royally screwed up spiritually.  Repeatedly, I have let God down and sinned against Him.  In my worst moments, I have been the biggest jerk (spiritually speaking) that you could ever imagine.  And, afterwards, I have tried to hide.  Just like Adam and Eve in the Garden, I have tried to slink off into the forest and avoid God when He came calling.  But His grace is relentless.  For years, I hid from God; rebelling against the responsibility that comes with holiness and running from His call.  And in my shame I also fled from His presence.  But He pursued me.  At every turn, I knew He was right there with me.....in the midst of my shame and humiliation, He was standing at the door knocking.  I didn't deserve it.  I told Him to go away; that I didn't deserve His love or presence but He wouldn't leave.   I would often urge Him to go help other people; others who were more deserving of His attention.  He would just smile and say, "that's okay" and stay there waiting. 

 

Eventually I realized that He wasn't pursuing me because I deserved it, but because He simply loved me too much to let me go.  He was relentless with His grace because His love for me had nothing to do with what I had done....it had everything to do with what HE had done.  It had everything to do with how much He valued me in spite of my idiotic moments. 

 

Tonight, I was reminded of relentless grace.  It came to me in the image of a little boy, stubbornly standing next to a shower until his jerk of a dad responded to his call to dinner.  But it caused me to remember another act of stubborn love.......of another Son.......who came to this earth and died for me.......in spite of my sin.  Of another Son....who relentlessly pursued me (and you) with His love....not because of what I have done, or what you have done....but because of what HE has done. 

 

You know, my son's name is Joshua.  That is ironic because, as I understand it, the name "Joshua" in the Hebrew is similar to the name "Jesus" in the Greek.  Ironic because tonight, in my Joshua......I saw a picture of Jesus. 

 

So thank you Joshua.  Thank you for reminding me that God's love for us is not about our worst moments........it's all about what we mean to Him.  Relentless grace.......not what we deserve......but what we get anyway.  Amazing. 

 

 

 

Aaron Welch is a licensed mental health counselor and nationally certified counselor who specializes in issues of masculinity, parenting and relationships.  He strives to fight for the hearts of his clients and empower them to build a legacy that impacts the world.  He is part of a team of experts at “The Lifeworks Group, Inc”.  For more information about Aaron or Lifeworks, please visit www.lifeworksgroup.org or call us at 407-647-7005.

 Reprint Permission- If this article helped you, you are invited to share it with your own list at work or church, forward it to friends and family or post it on your own site or blog. Just leave it intact and do not alter it in any way. Any links must remain in the article. Please include the following paragraph in your reprint.

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Wednesday, December 04, 2013

There's No Place Like Home for the Holidays...Unfortunately



By Aaron Welch, LMHC, NCC

 

 

For much of the world the holidays are a time of joy, peace and goodwill towards men.  We have songs like "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year," "I'll Be Home for Christmas," and, as the title says, "There's No Place Like Home for the Holidays."  However, for more people than we'd like to admit, this last title reflects the emotions of sadness and anger, rather than peace and good will.  The truth is that a high percentage of people see the holiday season as a time of year when they battle depression, when old feuds re-emerge, and when they feel more stressed than any other time. 

 

It is safe to say that the holidays are a time when all emotion tends to get amped up to new levels.  If you're happy, you tend to get happier during the holidays.  If you are struggling with anxiety, what time of the year can be more anxious than a season where traffic is a nightmare and finances are tight?  If you lean towards sadness, the holidays can throw you into out-and-out depression.  The holidays seem to magnify whatever we are feeling in general. 

 

So this article is for those of you who struggle through the holiday period.  I just want to offer some simple suggestions that I hope will get you through and might even make the days a little better.  Here goes:

 

  • Allow yourself to mourn:  The holidays can be especially rough if they remind you of loved ones who have passed away.  I admit that I fall into this category as my father died right after Thanksgiving and before Christmas.  When this happens (and more people die during the holiday season than any other time) it can make the holidays pretty melancholy.  Christmas just doesn't feel the same.  In fact, it can get downright lonely.  Many people try to shove those feelings aside or bury them under a load of presents or plenty of eggnog.  But I suggest that you embrace your mourning instead.  Give yourself permission to think about whomever you have lost.  In fact, pull out their pictures, write them a letter, and remember them.  What better way to honor their memory?  In the process, you also are handling your own emotions in a much healthier way and getting them out (at appropriate times and places) might free you up emotionally to enjoy the holidays more.  You can also mourn things besides people.  You can mourn what WAS.  In other words, it's okay to think about and mourn they way things used to be, if those are fond memories for you.  It's not a bad thing to get sentimental about the past...as long as you don't stay there.  You can also mourn the way things currently are.  Maybe life is not the way you planned for it to be or even the way you WANT it to be.  You can grieve that...without getting stuck there.  The point is that it is better to face your emotions than avoid them.  Get them out in healthy ways so you can...

 

  • Focus on what is good:  I absolutely believe you should embrace your sadness or grieve your losses.  However, it is not beneficial or even accurate to only focus on those things.  You must choose to also take account of the blessings in your life.  Things may not be exactly they way you want.  Maybe you have lost someone very important to you.  But don't forget about the good things in your life.  Children, grandchildren, good friends, a home, a job, food on the table.....if you choose to, the list would probably be longer than you think.  If you struggle through the holiday season, maybe it would be a great idea to sit down and make a list of the positive aspects in your life.  Don't stubbornly hold on to your negativity so much that you can't adjust your perspective and see the beauty in your life. 

 

  • Do your part to make things better:  Don't check out of life.  Don't be the person who complains about everything but never makes an effort to improve things.  Every situation is different but do your part to make the holidays better than they currently are.  Maybe that means you need to forgive someone who has wounded you.  Maybe you need to reconcile with that relative that you haven't spoken to in years.  Maybe it just means that you proactively reach out to start new traditions or just bring an element of joy that is currently missing.  Perhaps things are not as good as they once were but you can make a difference in that if you want to.  The "way things were" were that way because people made them that way.  You have the same opportunity and I would encourage you to be that person who makes a difference now. 

 

I'm sure there are so many other suggestions I could offer to get through the holidays.  These are only a few but I hope and pray that they help.  I know it is not easy to "snap out of it" as many people say.  If it were that easy, we would all do it.  However, I do believe you can balance mourning over the past with embracing the future....and, in so doing, experience healing for yourself while adding newfound joy to those around you.

 

Happy Holidays......and God bless.

 

Aaron Welch is a licensed mental health counselor and nationally certified counselor who specializes in issues of masculinity, parenting and relationships.  He strives to fight for the hearts of his clients and empower them to build a legacy that impacts the world.  He is part of a team of experts at “The Lifeworks Group, Inc”.  For more information about Aaron or Lifeworks, please visit www.lifeworksgroup.org or call us at 407-647-7005.

 Reprint Permission- If this article helped you, you are invited to share it with your own list at work or church, forward it to friends and family or post it on your own site or blog. Just leave it intact and do not alter it in any way. Any links must remain in the article. Please include the following paragraph in your reprint.

"Reprinted with permission from the LifeWorks Group weekly eNews, (Copyright, 2004-2013), To subscribe to this valuable counseling and coaching resource visit
www.LifeWorksGroup.org or call 407-647-7005"