For many service members, veterans, and their families, the holidays are a great time of laughter, cheer, and time to be with family and friends. However, we also know that for some of us the holidays can be a difficult time. We may remember family members, friends, and battle buddies who are no longer with us to celebrate the season. Although we feel the loss all year long, these feelings of sadness and loss are heightened during the holidays. This can mean an escalation of depression and anxiety. If you have a history of heightened triggers during the holidays, please be sure, to be honest with yourself and take the necessary actions to help alleviate those stressors.
To start, try your best to prevent heightened levels of stress and depression. An article released by the Mayo Clinic recommends several tips to help prevent and reduce stress and depression during the holiday season:
Acknowledge your feelings.
If someone close to you has recently died or you can’t be with loved ones, realize that it’s normal to feel sadness and grief. It’s OK to take time to cry or express your feelings. You can’t force yourself to be happy just because it’s the holiday season.
If you feel lonely or isolated, seek out community, religious or other social events. They can offer support and companionship. Volunteering your time to help others also is a good way to lift your spirits and broaden your friendships.
The holidays don’t have to be perfect or just like last year. As families change and grow, traditions and rituals often change as well. Choose a few to hold on to, and be open to creating new ones. For example, if your adult children can’t come to your house, find new ways to celebrate together, such as sharing pictures, emails or videos.
Set aside differences.
Try to accept family members and friends as they are, even if they don’t live up to all of your expectations. Set aside grievances until a more appropriate time for discussion. And be understanding if others get upset or distressed when something goes awry. Chances are they’re feeling the effects of holiday stress and depression, too.
Stick to a budget.
Before you go gift and food shopping, decide how much money you can afford to spend. Then stick to your budget. Don’t try to buy happiness with an avalanche of gifts.
Set aside specific days for shopping, baking, visiting friends and other activities. Plan your menus and then make your shopping list. That’ll help prevent last-minute scrambling to buy forgotten ingredients. And make sure to line up help for party prep and cleanup.
Learn to say no.
Saying yes when you should say no can leave you feeling resentful and overwhelmed. Friends and colleagues will understand if you can’t participate in every project or activity. If it’s not possible to say no when your boss asks you to work overtime, try to remove something else from your agenda to make up for the lost time.
Don’t abandon healthy habits.
Don’t let the holidays become a free-for-all. Overindulgence only adds to your stress and guilt.
Take a breather.
Make some time for yourself. Spending just 15 minutes alone, without distractions, may refresh you enough to handle everything you need to do. Find something that reduces stress by clearing your mind, slowing your breathing and restoring inner calm.
***Therapeutic art activities are great stress reducers! Doing these fun and simple exercises can help distract or provide focus when feeling stressed or overwhelmed. See below for ideas from Hope For The Warriors Art Therapist.
Seek professional help if you need it.
Despite your best efforts, you may find yourself feeling persistently sad or anxious, plagued by physical complaints, unable to sleep, irritable and hopeless, and unable to face routine chores. If these feelings last for a while, talk to your doctor or a mental health professional.
***Therapeutic art activities***
- Scribble Drawing
Materials: 8×12 or 18×24 inch white paper, oil or chalk pastels
Pick a single pastel to use; color does not matter. Place chalk in center of paper (can close your eyes) and begin to scribble around the paper. Simple make a series of lines for about 20 seconds and stop. Step back and look at the scribble. Using any colors you wish, color in the image that you see in the scribble. You can add any details to the image that you think are necessary or pleasing. When finished, step back or hang it up and see if a title comes to mind. Fun twist: create scribble using your non-dominant hand.
- Contour line drawing
Materials: 8-12 inch white paper, soft pencil.
Essentially contour drawing is a line drawing exercise that is done without ever looking at the piece of paper. This exercise helps to study a scene closely, observing every shape and edge with your eyes, as your hand mimics lines on the paper. The aim is not to produce a realistic artwork, but rather to strengthen the connection between eyes, hand and brain.
- Crumpled Paper Painting
Materials: 8×8 or 8×12 inch heavy paper or watercolor paper, watercolor paint
Providing art activities that cannot be predicted often invoke curiosity and mystery. Pre-paint sheets of paper with dark blue or black paint and crinkle them up into a ball. Then, unfold the paper and observe the lines created from the crumpled effect. Create a spontaneous painting using the lines on the crumpled paper.