It’s the holiday season once again, and as I work with patients preparing to see family, it’s clear that holidays and family sometimes don’t really mix. I must admit that I am very lucky to have a close family that generally gets along, even on holidays. As I talk with other people, friends and patients alike, I am reminded that many families struggle around this time of year, for so many reasons. I wouldn’t say that we don’t struggle, but the issues seem to pale in comparison. I grew up thinking that having the family together was normal, but for other families it is not.
For many, this time of year brings up trauma, loss, and loneliness. Working with Veteran’s, I have found many that struggle around the holidays because they remember where they were for holidays, and it was not with family. I have Vietnam Veterans that were in the jungle for the holidays, and others who spent the holidays away from family, missing home and struggling with many issues. For many Veterans, holidays while deployed include 12 hour work days, trying to get any meals that are offered, and feeling lonely. Other Veterans remember trauma events that were so significant, that they would rather be alone.
Other patients I work with remember holidays with family that included fighting, abuse, and very little happy memories. For some, seeing family puts them in contact with family members that are abusive, in multiple ways from sexual to physical. The holidays become a time to avoid others, not come together. For other people, the holidays mark the loss of loved ones, the inability to share with others, and the fear of financial issues. Many people go into debt trying to buy things for others that they can’t afford. I have worked with many parents who felt guilty that they couldn’t afford presents for their kids because rent and food had to come first. Some families have trouble putting food on the table.
The holidays bring more stress for many individuals and families for so many reasons. Don’t assume you understand someone, family or friends, without asking and talking with them about their experiences. Your neighbor may keep to him or herself, but there are so many reasons that they may make that choice. With more Veterans returning home with PTSD and other trauma issues, and so many others experiencing trauma at this time of year, take the time to talk with others. Find out if they need anything, even if it’s just a conversation and smile. Don’t underestimate the simple things. This time of year has become commercial, but the best gifts are still a smile, a hug, and time for someone in need of support.
Take time to enjoy your family, if your family is supportive. Find a safe place to be, if your family is not safe or supportive. Help a neighbor that might need it. Donate food or gifts to local programs, but don’t forget to donate your time if you can. Many local charities around the country put together food baskets and gifts to help those in need. We may be one of the richest countries in the world, but so many families can’t make ends meet, especially during the holidays.
The holiday time is festive, but preparing for it can be a struggle. Find the support you need and enjoy this festive time of year in a way that makes you smile. It’s a part of being happy for life.