It’s December and “The Holidays” have been in full swing for a while now. And while this can be a magical and exciting time of year, it can also be very stressful. It’s always fascinating to see how different people process this time of year. For some, “It’s the most wonderful time of the year” while for others the incessant joy and manufactured spirit brings on anxiety, anger, or sadness.
As a social worker, or future social worker, you’ll see it all.You’ll work with families and individuals who are excited to get their lives on track-just in time for the new year and, on the flip side, you’ll find those who sink deeper into despair. How do you help those who aren’t so joyous during this season? How do you obtain, maintain, or re-gain your own joy with so much sorrow in your everyday work life? Unfortunately, I don’t have an easy answer for those questions. For me, taking time to empathize and understand how difficult it must be to be in the midst of tragedy while the world is covered in twinkle lights and powdered sugar helps. Let your clients know that it’s ok to not feel particularly festive and that you are there to acknowledge their pain in a time when they feel largely ignored. Also, let them know that is ok to feel happiness and to participate, even if they or their families are going through something terrible. This is particularly true for caretakers or recent survivors of trauma. The guilt associated with “surviving” or thriving when a loved one did not can be especially strong during the season of joy. People are often conflicted about wanting to have fun and not participate in all the joy around them, and feeling guilty because someone that they love cannot. Let them know that their feelings are valid and normal but also that they have the right to feel happiness too. It doesn’t diminish their empathy or love.
In addition to guilt, sadness looms heavy in December. The whole month is marked with nostalgic reminders of our past lives. For some, these memories can be wonderful and healing but, for all too many they serve as unpleasant and unwelcome flashbacks of the grief or traumas of yore. For those in the latter camp, depression seems almost inescapable. Again, there is no magic wand that will suddenly tone down our cultural expressions whenever a depressed person passes a department store window but,again, we can (say it out loud together) *empathize*. We can also express how brave it is for a person to acknowledge her sadness when everyone around her has become “Buddy” the elf for the month.No easy answers but, it helps to remind your clients and yourself that, their feelings are normal and valid and the world doesn’t stop in December and re-start January 1. There is work to be done and it doesn’t have to wait!
As you can see and as I’m sure you already know, the Holidays can be complicated. In all the chaos, don’t forget to take care of yourself. Your feelings (good or bad, happy or sad) are valid too! It may take a little extra effort to express and work through them during the Holidays but, you can do it! Every day is a good day for self-care so don’t neglect yourself while you are helping others work through their holiday joys and pains. What do you do to unwind this time of year? Last night, I forced myself to leave the house to see “The Nutcracker” and I’m so glad I did! Working in a hospital in December can definitely put you in a funk and make it hard to get in the holiday spirit so, I had to put in a little extra effort. Even if you don’t celebrate, the saturation of the season can make you feel like you’re drowning! How do you cope?