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Coping with Holiday Stress

“I lost my mother in early 2022 and last Thanksgiving was really the first major holiday without her.”  That’s Terry Welker, Executive Director of Human Resources at CCMH.

“There are many kinds of loss. Sometimes, it is a loss of a job. Perhaps, it is the loss of a marriage through divorce, or maybe it’s the loss of a spouse in death, or the loss of a family member, perhaps a grandmother or a grandfather. It makes the holidays different. If it’s the first time you’ve ever gone through this loss around the holidays, it’s important to have someone that you can talk to.”

Welker shares his own personal story of loss around the holidays.

“My mom was always an integral part of Thanksgiving preparation and the meal. We knew coming up to the holidays last year that it was going to be different. We were able to reach out and talk to a counselor to get some suggestions, and in doing so, recommended we start a new routine. Now, instead of Christmas ham and Thanksgiving turkey, we swapped them, and we made Thanksgiving ham and Christmas turkey. We moved our family gathering to a different location. We started new traditions. Altogether, it’s something new and refreshing. The holidays again became something we could look forward to, even though my mom’s loss was still felt.”

Welker says key to being able to cope with the loss of a loved one at the holidays was made easier with the help of a mental health professional.

“We were trying to make something good out of something that we could have dwelled on. We recognized the loss that day, but it didn’t hurt as bad. Our counselor really helped us through and gave us some tools to do something constructive with that loss and really recognize it and really make it the best situation.”

Work circumstances are not immune to the stressful feelings that come along with the holiday season.

“We have employees at CCMH that suffer loss and have those stressors. We’d like to think as lay people we can help them fix whatever is broken. Nonetheless, we’d rather guide staff members to a professional that has been thoroughly trained and has a large toolbox to be able to bring out the right tool at the right time to get the best outcome.”

 As the Executive Director of Human Resources, Welker says his primary focus is on the employees.

“We really put a lot of energy into making sure we understand what affects employee’s lives. It’s important to know how we can help them bring their best day, every day, to serve our community and our patients. But we don’t have to go very far to find good information suggesting the holidays elevate moods. Sometimes the holidays can put you in a better mood or it can go in the opposite direction. Recent statistics show that two out of every five adults find stress in the holidays, mostly regarding what they can afford. Not only worrying about family and gifts and giving, but 40% worry about what they can afford to give during the holiday season. And if people feel they don’t have the means to afford gifts, it’s hard for them for sense they can celebrate the holidays appropriately with their family.”

Welker says additional stress piles up because people may overspend on gifting, going into debt just to feel like they’re meeting societal expectations.

“It would be easy for us to sit back and say, ‘just give something from the heart’ but our society tends to be very materialistic. Advertising is constantly encouraging us to buy more stuff when, in fact , the best gift is the gift of our time.”

Sometimes people don’t even know what’s bothering them. Welker notes the holidays may have people feeling out of sorts when they don’t understand why they’re being stressed.

“It’s a little bit like when you have a pebble in your shoe. It bothers you until you can uncover it for yourself and deal with it. Stress is a difficult thing to endure. It’s the reason why we encourage people to seek out professionals because they’re the people who can help uncover the stressors that we’re feeling, the things that make us feel different, or that there’s something wrong about how the holidays might be progressing. We continue to recommend people to see a professional when it comes to any sort of holiday stress that you might be experiencing.”

Welker says a good first move is to see if your employer has an Employee Assistance Program (EAP).

“Ask your employer if you have a counseling service as an additional benefit to your benefit package. If you don’t have access to an EAP program,  there are some mental health services offered through the 211 system. I’d also encourage people to reach out and see what in-person mental health services are being offered locally.”

Without an EAP program, Welker suggests getting involved in your community.

“Most importantly, don’t isolate yourself. Be a part of something. Meet people. Socialize. Be the kind of person who wants to be around others during the holiday season. As tough as that might seem, human beings were never meant to be alone. We were meant to be around other people. Make yourself available to people or events where you can feel like you’re a part of something greater than yourself. You never know the people you might meet, and the relationships that you might develop, that will help you to better deal with the stress you’re feeling during the holiday season. Remember that loneliness is it is not something that has to perpetuate. “

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