When the holidays get you down

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By Andrea Craig, Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner


The holidays aren’t always the most wonderful time of the year. In fact, many people I have seen in my practice over the years feel particularly disheartened or resentful of the holidays.

There’s no right way to feel during this time of year, but the pressure to feel joy and happiness can be especially discouraging. Many factors contribute to these emotions, such as finances, loneliness, and grief, but there are solutions for each of these.


For those on a budgetFrustrated dad looking at receipts and bills during Christmas time

One of the biggest causes of depression around the holidays that I see is finances. In today’s consumer-centric world, there’s heavy pressure on people to spend lots of money and to buy lots of gifts. As a result, many people feel guilty for not being able to afford gifts, parents and grandparents especially.

Despite what mainstream society wants us to think, I believe that there’s more to the holidays than giving and receiving gifts, and this time of year can be enjoyed without spending heaps of money.

If you don’t have the funds to buy gifts, first try giving the gift of time. Make a point to spend time with people. In fact, this gift may be more cherished than a new toy in the long run.

Here are some other ideas to keep the holiday expenses low:

  • Drive around town to look at lights.
  • Bake cookies.
  • Watch a movie on TV and have a cup of hot chocolate.
  • Play a board game while listening to Christmas music.
  • Only do stocking stuffers.
  • Go skating or sledding.
  • Get involved in community events, such as visiting Santa Claus or lighting ceremonies.
  • Find creative projects to make with materials found around the house.
  • Buy a few inexpensive gifts and play a game when opening them.
  • Write friends and family a personalized letter instead of getting gifts.
  • Give handmade gifts.
  • Sell old toys or clothes in order to buy new ones.
  • Volunteer for others in need.


A Caucasian woman is indoors in her living room. There is a Christmas tree in the background.

For those who are lonely

Another cause of sadness around the holidays is not having anyone to spend time with. This is especially difficult if you see other people celebrating together.

Because it’s supposed to be such a happy time of year, if you don’t feel any of that joy due to loneliness, it intensifies your negative feelings.

If you’re feeling up to it, try some of these methods to combat loneliness:

  • See what’s available in the community in terms of activities or celebrations.
  • Get involved in a local church. Even if you don’t share the faith, churches can offer other solutions in terms of companionship and feeling involved.
  • Seek out others around you who are in a similar circumstance. Though it may not feel like it, there are many others who are experiencing what you are.
  • Volunteer. This can take your mind off of loneliness by focusing on the needs of others.


For those who are grieving

Sometimes, the holidays bring up past feelings of grief or intensify new ones. This is especially hard during the first year and the first holiday.

A Depressed adult male looks out a window past christmas decorations with christmas lights in the background.Instead of trying to suppress thoughts of your loved one during the holidays, I encourage you to embrace those thoughts.

Try starting a new tradition in memory of that person. For instance, purchase an ornament in honor of that person to hang on the tree. Share stories about them to make them a special part of the holiday. Include their favorite foods in the holiday menu.

This might make you feel guilty about enjoying the holiday without your loved one. I just want you to know that it’s OK to celebrate the holiday and to feel happiness. But it’s also OK if you don’t feel like celebrating.

For those spending time with a grieving individual, ask how you can best support them, and try to make things less stressful, perhaps by taking care of the meal or hosting. Some people would feel better by not participating in the holiday at all, and that’s OK. It’s just important to give this individual the chance to say yes or no.


About the Author: Andrea Craig works in behavioral health at Tri-County Health Care and is board certified as a psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner. She is a graduate of the College of St. Scholastica in Duluth.

Coping with Grief During the Holidays

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By: Sara Stone, Licensed Social Worker

Fir branch, candle and  Christmas decorationsThis time of year we’re thinking about celebrating the holidays with family and friends. We’re looking to find joy in making memories and partaking in traditions. Sound perfect, right?  Well, not for everyone. How do we cope with grief during the holidays?

Many who are grieving the loss of a loved one can find these holidays and traditions to be a very challenging time. Holidays can often time magnify the loss, and make some of the traditions feel unbearable.  You are not alone if you find yourself dreading an upcoming holiday or worrying about what or how you will make it through.

For each person, the experience can vary a great deal. This is because grief itself is so very personal.  Many feel that holidays are a time when they need to force themselves to cheer up and go with the flow. That is actually the opposite of what one should be doing.  Because the holidays can often time be a trigger of great emotion, much of which we may not be expecting or ready for, it’s important to give yourself permission to work through your grief and not force yourself to do anything you’re not ready for or comfortable with.

By grieving, we work our way through the pain that we feel over our lost loved one. The grief is our internal feelings, while the pain and sadness is what others may see.  It’s okay to talk about your loss, or reflect on it. Take time to journal, or reflect on the holidays and what areas mean most to you.

Grief.com has a few suggestions on ways to cope:saragrief-support-tag

  • Do allow time for your feelings.
  • Do allow others to help. We all need help at certain time in our lives.
  • Do be gentle with yourself and protect yourself.
  • Don’t do more than you want, and don’t do anything that does not service your soul and your loss.
  • Do, in grief, pay extra attention to the children. Children are too often forgotten grievers.

Sometimes the thought of the holiday approaching may be harder for us than when the actual holiday arrives. Some people welcome the ‘change of pace’ and activity that often times comes with the event.

Another point of consideration is that although the holidays may never be the same after the loss of your loved one, it is a time for you to evaluate how you want your holiday to look or feel.  Do you start a new tradition in honor of your loved one?  This may be as simple as;

  • Leaving a chair open at the table or in the space that you celebrate.
  • Starting a journal about your loved one and inviting family to add happy memories.
  • Doing a balloon release or some other reflection activity such as lighting a special candle in their honor during the holiday celebration.
  • One support group member got a small tree and asked all family members to buy an ornament that they felt reminded them of their father/grandfather. Each of them put the ornament on that tree and every year, the tree has a special place during the winter holiday season.


Here at Tri-County Health Care we offer several free, monthly support group meetings to the community, including:

1. Adult Survivors of Suicide Loss Support Group

The purpose of this group is to provide a confidential support group for those who have experienced this type of loss to find support, share their story and learn ways to cope. It is open to all adult family members and friends of a loved one who has completed suicide. The groups meets the third Tuesday of the month from 6:30 – 8 p.m. in the Wesley Conference Room in the lower level of Tri-County Health Care.

2. Grief Support Group

Anyone who has experienced a loss is invited to the support group. The group’s purpose is to offer understanding, suggestions for coping, support, friendship, and most of all, hope to bereaved adults. They meet the first Tuesday of each month from 4:30 – 5:30 p.m. in the Wesley Conference Room, located in the lower level of Tri-County Health Care in Wadena.

3. Parents Who Have Lost a Child Support Group

This support group is open to all parents who have lost a child of any age, at any time in their lives. They meet the second Monday of the month from 5:30 – 7 p.m. in the Wesley Conference Room at Tri-County Health Care.

Sara Stone

Sara Stone

For more information or questions about the support groups offered, please contact the Medical Social Services office (218) 631-5228. To see a list of all monthly support groups offered by TCHC go here: http://www.tchc.org/education-and-resources/support-groups.

About the Author: Sara Stone, LSW is the Medical Social Services Manager at Tri-County Health Care. The goal of her department is to provide support, education, referrals and serve as a resource to patients and their families regarding all matters of health and well-being.

Grief and the Holidays

By Guest Blogger: Rachel L. O. Stout, Pastor

“It’s the most wonderful time of the year…”

So, I’m just going to come right out and say it: Andy Williams, you’re full of bologna! This is not, for many, the most wonderful time of the year. Now, I am by no means anti-Thanksgiving or Christmas. I’m no Grinch. I love the holiday season: I decorate my home with my family; I play Christmas music in my car, on my computer while I’m working; I bake; I love the time spent with family; and I have the privilege of preparing myself and my congregations for the blessed night of Christmas Eve.


But let’s be honest. It is not the most wonderful time of the year for everyone. And that’s okay. For those who grieve (which is just about everyone), the holidays are a glaring reminder of all that has been lost, either in the last year or last years: a child, a spouse, a sibling, a job, a sense of control, home, health, traditions, and so on and so forth. We are more aware of all that was and will never be.

There is something about the way in which we tidy up the holidays that makes our grief all the more apparent and painful. We clean and decorate our homes, we buy special clothes for our kids, attempt beautiful confections we’ve found and pinned on Pinterest, we gather together as family (a feat that is, for some, easier said than done), and we may go to Church. We continue with the established traditions even though they don’t quite feel right. All the while, we are trying desperately to cope with our loss. The confluence of grief and “the most wonderful time of the year” can be chaotic, even disastrous.

It’s important, I think, that we acknowledge that reality, and be okay with it. The holidays will come and go and be what they are. And because of that, it would behoove us all to be a bit kinder and more sensitive to the heartache around and within us. The holidays don’t have to be Andy Williams or Pinterest perfect to be celebrated. We are wonderfully human and messy and so are our holiday gatherings.

As I learn more about that first Thanksgiving, I am amazed at how tension-filled, confusing, and wonderfully exciting it was for those who were a part of it. No one really knew what it would mean to sit down at the table and break bread with those who were different from them. And that first Christmas, well, that was a less than perfect event. Mary gave birth to the son of God without the support of the women in her family or the comfort that home and community would have given her. All of it messy, every single blessed moment. Why would our lives be any different?

So, as a PSA from one human being to another, if we could all just be a little kinder to one another as we go through the upcoming holiday season, that would be a tremendous gift to those for whom the holidays are difficult. While you’re franticly trying to get everything done on your to-do list, remember those whose hearts ache for the ones they love. While you’re receiving family into your home or traveling to be with family, remember those who will be alone. And whether sitting down to a table bursting with food or just a frozen pizza, remember those who will go without.

Upcoming event:
Getting through the holidays can be tough. Join others for an evening of remembering our loved ones who have died. “Getting Through The Holidays” will be held on November 17, at Immanuel Lutheran Church, in Wadena. This is a free community program that starts at 5:30 p.m. and is followed by a meal. The evening is meant to offer support for anyone experiencing the loss of a loved one in their life. Everyone is welcome!

To RSVP, please contact Diane Leaders at diane.leaders@knutenelson.org or by calling 218-632-1335 or 320-759-1270.

About the author:

Pastor Rachel Stout with her three beautiful children – Ana, Brigid and Soren.

Pastor Rachel Stout with her three beautiful children – Ana, Brigid and Soren.

Rachel Stout serves as Pastor at Our Savour’s Lutheran in Sebeka and Balsamlund in Aldrich. Rachel is married to Ryan Stout (a Pastor too) and is mother to three wonderful kids, Soren (8), Ana (4) and Brigid (2).