Sadness and Dread Around the Holidays

Depression during the Holidays
Depression during the Holidays

There can be joy around the holidays for many, but as Christmas week gets closer some fears can grow about whether that time of the year will stimulate feelings of deeper loneliness and inner difficulties. A number of clients came in a few days before Thanksgiving with the dread of getting through the holidays. This also occurs right before Christmas.

For some people, there may be an apprehension about seeing certain family members. There can also be the fear of having nothing to do at all. Feelings of isolation can be accentuated during this time of year because it looks like everyone else is connecting and receiving care. Someone can also be physically surrounded by others but feel very alone and emotionally disconnected.

First of all, if you are supposed to see family members that you have a difficult history with, try to visualize the situation ahead of time. If you anticipate a lot of drama and negative interactions, evaluate whether the gathering makes sense. Can it possibly be an opportunity to have some private meaningful conversations that will help resolve issues from the past? Will there be any supportive people at the gathering or will you feel alone? Each family situation is different and depending on the ability for people to communicate and be honest, certain family dynamics may be too difficult to handle. Think about whether you can attend for a few hours and make the situation in YOUR control, rather than feel passive there. Remember, this can be a way to also turn around the negative history and get a new start.

Sit and visualize the people in your family with whom you have difficulties. Is it possible to see why they may behave the way they do and if there is a way you have contributed to the situation? Of course, certain situations that involved abuse or neglect may be ones where you were a victim and these are often very difficult to see with a new perspective. Some people are able to forgive through compassion and others find it more healthy to cut off contact and not be pulled back into unhealthy dramas. It really depends on the circumstances as well as the personalities involved. For someone with an inpatient psychiatric history, this time of year can be one to carefully watch. Many people are hospitalized around holiday time for mood issues and there can be lots of triggers and associations from the past.

If you are someone suffering from holiday depression due to having no family or loved one to spend time with, preparing ahead for Christmas is important. Do you have a friend in a similar situation? Would you feel better volunteering at a shelter or church function where you can help with meal preparation? This is a way you can feel good about helping others and be around others who volunteer.

Another way to get through the holidays is to remember that you aren’t at work or school for a few days. Are you near a nature center or area that you love? If you are in a warm climate, grabbing a book and a music player can be a way to have a day that is free of stress. You can also stay home and use the day for some meditation, a time of writing and a way to write out your visualizations for next year.

A home study course with yoga and meditation for depression can be studied and practiced during the Christmas week and open new doors. It can be very peaceful to be away from things and just turn inside. Speaking to a counselor a few times in December can be helpful in dealing with this time of year. Remember also that it’s easy to project on others that they are having a perfect time in their lives and to forget that there are tensions and strains in each person’s life which are tough challenges.

Celebrate Giving Tuesday and Why You Don’t Want to Miss It

The Holidays are always a time of reflection and self-evaluation. It’s the time of year where many celebrate family and good fortune, and for others, its the amplification of losses and desires unmet. Over the years, Thanksgiving has become the symbol for early Christmas shopping with Black Friday and CyperMonday launching the season. Those who are less fortunate are often stuck working on Thanksgiving Day and even longer hours until after New Years because retailers are using extended hours to add convenience for shoppers.  However, Giving Tuesday is an opportunity for us to honor the working poor who often rely on social services and charities for assistance to get their families through the holidays.

Over the Thanksgiving, I saw calls for boycotts of various retailers in response to the poor working conditions, discrimination, and unlivable wages that many service employees face in order to ensure the majority of Americans have less wait time standing in line. Feeling guilty for being more fortunate or ignoring the suffering of others is not the solution, but the National Day of Giving which is the first Tuesday after Black Friday can be your way of honoring those who have the least. Today is Giving Tuesday, and do you want to miss out on an opportunity to kick off the season of goodwill?

According to Whitehouse.gov,

Started by the United Nations Foundation and the 92d Street Y, #GivingTuesday builds on the American tradition of giving back but uses technology to give this greater impact. This commemoration does not seek to coordinate funds toward any particular nonprofit or to direct volunteers to support a specific cause. Instead, #GivingTuesday is intended to encourage Americans to reflect and give back. It’s a collective moment for individual and community action.

#GivingTuesday has significant momentum. More than 7000 partners across all 50 states are taking part. This includes large corporations and small businesses, faith-based organizations and secular nonprofits. This year, cities are stepping forward to galvanize the movement.  They are celebrating local causes through unique campaigns like BMoreGivesMore in Baltimore; #GivingTuesdayBucks in Bucks County, PA; and #GivingTuesdayPHL in Philadelphia. In all these communities, nonprofits, businesses and government are collaborating to raise awareness and drive funds for those in need.

With Giving Tuesday, there is no standing in line because you can make a donation to your favorite charity via cell phone or computer. Maybe, you are short of cash because you spent too much money on Black Friday and CyperMonday. Today, could be a perfect opportunity to  do something nice for someone, volunteer, clean out your closet for a clothing donation, take cans to the food bank, or sending out an encouraging e-card.

The point I am trying to make is find a way to give to someone else today. If you don’t have monetary capital to donate, social capital is just as good. Let Givingtuesday.org  know how you are celebrating. You can send tweets using the hashtag #givingtuesday or make a post on their Facebook Fanpage.



Thanksgiving: All Grown Up and Nowhere To Go

Dorm room

Once a young person turns 18 and leaves the foster care system, they should be ready to do what other young adults do–go to college or get a job, right? The Chafee Foster Care Independence Program assists youth by providing assistance in achieving self-sufficiency after leaving foster care. Through supports such as the Educational and Training Vouchers Program (ETV), former foster youth can receive financial assistance with college expenses.

Research has shown that the foster care population generally has poor outcomes as they transition to adulthood. The Midwest Evaluation of the Adult Functioning of Former Foster Youth found that former foster youth experienced significant challenges including high rates of homelessness, incarceration, and unemployment. As recently as a decade ago, college was not an option for most young adults leaving the foster care program. Fortunately, there are now supports and assistance available so that more former foster youth are able to attend college, providing them the education they need to be competitive in today’s workforce.

No doubt, many former foster youth now have something to be thankful for this Thanksgiving. They have opportunities that few of their predecessors had just 10 to 15 years ago. The reality is, new challenges have emerged.

Many former foster youth must live in dormitories and other college-sponsored housing. Often they do not have the resources required for off-campus housing such as a security deposit to rent an apartment, furniture, and other household items. Most of us had parents or guardians that could help with these items. Former foster youth rarely have this luxury. Living in dormitories may provide an excellent transition for vulnerable young adults. However, there is often a ‘catch’ to this….most colleges and universities close down their housing (and food service) during extended breaks such as Thanksgiving and Christmas.

This leaves former foster youth with the challenge of finding housing and meals during the holidays.  Options such as spending the holidays with family may not be possible for young adults who were separated from their families as children due to abuse or neglect. Generally, options such as staying at a hotel and dining out are beyond the financial means of former foster youth. If they are lucky, a young person may have friends with whom they can spend holidays. However, this may not always be possible, especially if the young person has a part-time job.

In case you were thinking there is little you can do to address this problem, the following are some suggestions for getting involved.

1) Offer to host a former foster youth in your community for the holidays. Maybe your son or daughter has a former classmate who was in foster care. Or maybe you know of a young person through your community/social circles. Just because they haven’t asked for help, doesn’t mean they couldn’t use some help.

2) Suggest that members of your church or other civic organization work together to develop a network of supports/resources for youth who have aged out of foster care. In addition to helping tackle the housing issue, this might include a drive to collect household items such as sheets, blankets, towels or school supplies for college-bound foster youth.

3) Donate gift cards to places like Boston Market, Applebee’s, or Perkins so that college students can enjoy a meal (something other than fries and a burger…) over the holidays. You can contact your local child welfare agency or non-profit foster care agencies to assist with making the connection to young people in need of support. Or if you know of a young person who could use a helping hand, you can give it to them directly (or anonymously by mail).

4) Talk with local colleges/universities about setting up a faculty ‘host a student’ program. Through such a program, faculty can host a former foster youth for the holidays. The advantage is that the faculty member may already know the young person and they likely live in the same community as the college/university. This may also provide an excellent mentoring opportunity that can have a positive, long-term effect for the student.

5) Talk with the local high school about setting up a ‘host family’ program. Former teachers or coaches could host students during holiday breaks.

6) Talk with your local colleges/universities about setting up a holiday housing program in dormitories for former foster youth. Often there are also foreign students who also need housing. (Many larger universities offer some sort of accommodations.)

7) Check with your local YMCA, YWCA, or similar programs to see if they have temporary housing available. If so, offer to ‘pay it forward’ for a young person in need of housing over the holidays by providing rent (if there is a charge).

8) If you don’t have the space in your home to host a young person (or if you opted to assist as suggested in #7), invite students to participate in your holiday meal.

9) Support local foster parents who provide assistance to the young adults previously in their care. Offer to assist with buying school or work clothes. Donate grocery gift cards to offset the cost of food.

10) Provide transportation to college students who may have the opportunity to spend the holidays with former foster parents, friends, or family who do not live in the same community. This may be in the form of a bus or train ticket, airfare, or driving the student to their destination. This may also apply when a young person attends a college/university in a community other than the one they lived in prior to age 18. What may seem like a short distance to travel can present insurmountable obstacles for a young person setting off for college with no car and limited resources.

These are just a few suggestions, please feel free to add your ideas to the list!

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