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Improving your mental health during a challenging holiday season

Posted at 6:13 AM, Nov 25, 2020
and last updated 2020-11-25 06:13:43-05

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Thanksgiving is this week and then the countdown to Christmas, and things will likely feel and look different this year. This pandemic has put families under a lot of stress, and the holidays can just add to that.

“I want to acknowledge that everyone is experiencing more stress and anxiety right now, everyone it feels it. To me, talking about your stress and anxiety is like the new talking about Michigan weather," said Erika Crenshaw, a therapist at Forest View Psychiatric Hospital. “I think one of the things that I don't hear a lot of people talking about is that this increasing anxiety, and changes over the holidays, increases our grief. And we have a lot more loss that's connected with the changes that we're experiencing, and a lot of us really just want to get through stuff. We tend to push those feelings of grief, loss, and sadness aside. Then they end up coming out sideways in our relationships and causing more stress and anxiety.”

We often think of grief as the feeling after losing someone, but Crenshaw says grief could help explain a lot of what we have been feeling for months now. “I think it's important to acknowledge that grief is a part of what's happening to all of us right now. I know in my family, the family traditions around holidays are different. And I was talking to my kiddo the other day, and he started to say things like, ‘Thanksgiving is gonna be terrible,’ and it was an opportunity for me to stop him and say, ‘Hang on a second, buddy. Let's talk this through.’"

"Let's be careful of the language that we use. How we talk about our feelings when we're experiencing grief is really important. So, Thanksgiving is going to be different. It's going to be different for most of us, but that difference could be joyful.”

Crenshaw says being open and honest in an age-appropriate way is important for parents to keep in mind this time of year. “It's okay to say to your kids, 'I'm feeling a lot of sadness about the holidays changing this year. I think I'm open to it being different. I'd like to have new ideas about that, but I'm sad about it today.' Or (you can say), 'Mom is feeling a little bit stressed because she has a lot more to plan and organize than usual.'"

And Crenshaw says it's good to remember the simple, even small, things you’re grateful for. “Another G-word that I think is going to help us all through this holiday season is gentleness, just being gentle with ourselves. It’s okay to not know what you're doing today. We need to give ourselves permission to just be fallible, to not be perfect, to not have all the answers, and I know that's really hard.”

Forest View offers all kinds of different services right now if you need to talk to someone. Click here to get connected.