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For some, the holidays are a time of making memories, spending time with family and having fun – all in the name of Christmastime. For others, it’s also a season that can be the most triggering psychologically.
While many people are decking the halls with boughs of holly, some especially are preparing to grit their teeth and bear it during the week or two they are off work during this time meant for joy – although, for them, it’s anything but.
For others mourning or grieving around this time, different feelings crop up for them.
However, there is no time like the present during this season to learn and unlearn how to navigate issues that can range from complex trauma to mourning the loss of loved ones who passed, and remembering to thrive not just survive around the holidays.
Livonia resident Elaine Taylor knows all too well about trauma, especially during the holidays.
The buoyant, God-fearing mother of six, told the Michigan Chronicle that as a foster mother and a grieving mother who lost her two sons, she contacted a Detroit-based counseling service, Southwest Counseling Solutions, to assist her with grief and trauma.
“My [birth] sons, both of them were murdered in Detroit, one of my grandsons was murdered in Detroit and my sister was murdered in Detroit,” Taylor said, adding that the tragedy happened over the span of 15 years. “I thank God I have the kids…I’ve been fostering for 21 years…during that time. They gave me a reason to keep going. When you lose [people and have such a] tragedy, you have a purpose. All I can say is God brought me through it.”
The Detroit-based nonprofit, Southwest Counseling Solutions, which also helps provide affordable housing and economic opportunities for families in southwest Detroit, helped Taylor as she fostered countless children in their times of need.
“The children who have come through Elaine’s home are thriving – eight of her adoptive sons graduated from high school…with four graduating from college,” Southwest Counseling stated in an email to the Michigan Chronicle. “Elaine was able to give her foster children a home to eat, sleep and play in, but more importantly, a home to hold in their hearts forever.”
“The holidays can be an extremely stressful time for families, whether that’s having high expectations of what the holidays should look like or large family gatherings where everyone doesn’t share the same viewpoints,” said Jamie Ebaugh, executive director of Southwest Counseling Solutions. “Southwest Counseling Solutions works with families, like Ms. Taylor’s, to provide practical tips and resources to help manage stress during the holidays.”
Ebaugh adds, “Our experienced and highly-trained staff work to understand client needs and help them reach their goals and no one is ever denied care due to an inability to pay.”
For others facing traumas like family-related mental illness, addiction or internal family struggles, it’s important to have grace with oneself and extended relatives during this sometimes-stressful time. Some experts say some simply might need more “emotional education.”
Licensed Clinical Social Worker Hilary Jacobs Hendel noted in a National Alliance on Mental Illness article that oftentimes emotions triggered from family interactions take people back to when they were younger – exactly as how they felt as little children.
“It’s how the brain works,” Hendel said. “My patients work hard not to get triggered. … [by] the lack of emotion education in our world, combined with the resulting lack of self-awareness and not remembering to use empathy makes it easy to unintentionally do damage.”
This holiday season do what is good for you with self-help strategies, a therapist or a close confidant who can help.
“We don’t get to pick our families. And sometimes relationships can become strained and just not what we want or need,” Hendel said. “Remember you have options: you can decline an invitation, accept an invitation but set firm boundaries, implement self-help strategies to better manage, see a therapist to prepare or you can create a different kind of holiday with friends instead of family and see how that feels. Most of all, remember to validate your feelings. It’s natural to feel sad during the holidays, especially if your family relationships disappoint you.”
Troy resident Ashley Cowser-Mitchell, a busy mother of two young children, told the Michigan Chronicle that while she enjoys her children and family, she finds her peace, too, during the holidays by having quiet time, exercising and watching movies. She balances it out and it helps her recharge by actively spending time with her children.
“I enjoy relaxing with the kids doing some arts and crafts around the holiday time,” Cowser-Mitchell said. “I find it relaxing and therapeutic for myself and the kids just showing some creativity, being silly…nothing too serious.”