Archive of ‘Holidays’ category

Grief, Family, and the Holidays

Holidays can be difficult for a variety of reasons; after all, the holiday season can bring up all kinds of feelings. This can be especially difficult when your family has suffered a loss of any kind. It’s a time when families often get together, thereby making losses more noticeable. Tensions between family members may already be high, and there is often a wealth of memories tied to the holidays, both joyful and difficult. The holidays can be painful reminders as well as an opportunities to reminisce, strengthen relationships, and revive old traditions or create new ones.

Everyone is Different

Just as everyone in your family has their own personality and ways of dealing with stress, people often grieve differently. Grief sometimes comes in waves, and may seem delayed for some people, especially children. It’s not something we get over or move on from, but we do move forward. We incorporate the loss into our life story, and may make meaning of that loss in different ways. We may feel the grief less often or less intensely, but it doesn’t go away completely. Children may grieve differently too, depending on where they are developmentally. They may also experience various aspects of the loss, or grieve again, as they reach new developmental stages. 

Navigating Traditions and Rituals

One thing the holiday season invites is tradition. When someone who was part of a yearly ritual or tradition dies, that inevitably changes our experience of it. Just as individuals and families grieve in different ways, family members may have varying ideas about what to do with those traditions. Questions about changing or skipping traditions may arise. While family members may disagree about how to move forward, it is important to let everyone express their feelings, thoughts, concerns, and hopes. Discuss which activities the family wants to keep, which to skip, and what could be added. Is there a way the family can honor the person who has died, knowing that things won’t ever be the same as they were? When possible, give children choices about whether or not to participate. 

Taking Care of Yourself

Taking care of yourself doesn’t have to be time consuming or expensive. Take 5 minutes to yourself to breathe, have a cup of tea, or simply be alone. Get coffee with a friend who gets you. Be gentle with yourself—the holidays are full of reminders, both of what you have and who you have lost—give yourself permission to grieve, to cry, to laugh, to enjoy those around you. Whatever you are feeling is okay! It’s also okay to set the boundaries you need, whether that’s by doing less, choosing who to spend your time with, or skipping an event altogether. Listen to your body—try to get the rest you need, stay hydrated, and move if you can. 

“You will lose someone you can’t live without, and your heart will be badly broken, and the bad news is that you never completely get over the loss of your beloved. But this is also the good news. They live forever in your broken heart that doesn’t seal back up. And you come through. It’s like having a broken leg that never heals perfectly–that still hurts when the weather gets cold, but you learn to dance with the limp.” Anne Lamott

Resources

If you are struggling and would like additional support, the following organizations offer groups and other grief and loss resources.

The Christi Center

Austin Center for Grief and Loss

Hospice Austin

By: Magdalen Marrone, LCSW

Instead of New Year’s Resolutions, Try Intentions.

We made it! The year is wrapping up and we are looking onward to the clean slate and potential of a brand new year! No matter what the past year held, many are ready for a fresh start. We are in a season of optimism, hope, and commitment to change.

With the new year comes the New Year’s resolutions. I’m not a fan of the New Year’s resolution and I’ll tell you why in a moment. But first, a small disclaimer: I believe we mean well when we set resolutions. Looking at life with a fresh lens and committing to making changes we want to make is healthy. When we set resolutions, we mean to commit to ourselves that this is the year that things will be different. This is the year that we will do the thing, take the leap, start new, and close the gap between who we are and who we want to be. Believing in our highest potential is a gift to ourselves.

But here is the problem with resolutions: They set us up to fail. They are outcome-dependent, often designed to be pass or fail, black or white, all or nothing. We either did the thing, or we didn’t. Sure, it is good in the beginning. The first three weeks of January go smoothly. These new habits are hard, but we are adapting. But what happens when life gets messy or we get busy? We start to slip. Regression is a natural and expected part of the change cycle, but it sure doesn’t feel that way when the commitment we made to ourselves was do or do not. There was no try.

For some, resolutions work. I have heard a few stories about people who stuck with their resolution for the full year, reached their potential, and didn’t look back. But by and large, the experience with resolutions is this:

  • At their best, resolutions become something we feel that we “should” do, a pesky little reminder that we are not living up to the dreams we had for ourselves.
  • At their worst, resolutions can make us feel downright horrible. What messages do you send yourself when you are letting yourself down? I doubt any of us are hoping to highlight or strengthen our feelings of inferiority in the new year. Who wants that?

How do we preserve the part of resolution setting that is helpful while ditching the part that can create anxiety, feelings of failure, and inadequacy? I propose we set intentions instead. Intentions are a mental state that provide a framework for the future. An intention is not what we want to accomplish, but rather how we want to accomplish it. Setting an intention is like setting a reminder to yourself of how you want to live your life.

Intentions are different from resolutions because they are disconnected from any specific outcome. When we focus on how we want to live and the traits we want to embody, the decisions we make will align with our intentions. We will grow to choose what is best for us because we are rooted in honoring our ideal selves. Naturally, we will progress toward our goals.

In three steps, here is how you can get started on setting your New Year’s Intentions:

  1. Brainstorm. The answers to these questions will help you generate ideas and clarity for your New Year’s Intentions:
  • What type of a person do I want to be?
  • What words do I wish people would use when they describe me?
  • How do I want to move through life, work, and my relationships?
  • What do I want more of in my life?
  1. Refine. Now that you have a few ideas percolating, try plugging your intention into this sentence: “When given the choice, I will ____________.

Examples of intentions may sound something like this:

  • When given the choice, I will choose peace.
  • When given the choice, I will choose kindness.
  • When given the choice, I will love myself.
  • When given the choice, I will honor my body.
  • When given the choice, I will celebrate my progress.
  • When given the choice, I will be gentle with myself and others.
  • When given the choice, I will be patient.
  • When given the choice, I will listen to my intuition.
  • When given the choice, I will trust the process.
  • When given the choice, I will move with grace.
  • When given the choice, I will follow through on my commitments.
  • When given the choice, I will be present.
  • When given the choice, I will balance ease and effort.

Here are a few tips that may help:

  • Play around with the language. The language I suggest may seem foreign, and that is okay. Modify it it something that fits you.
  • Seek clarity and specificity. There is power is precision.
  • You can have more than one intention, but there is also value in hitting the nail on the head. It will be easier to remember and honor over time if you have one sentence to go back to.
  1. Remind. How will you remember your intention? I suggest writing it down in multiple places. A few ideas could be a note in your phone, in your planner, on your bathroom mirror, a post it note on the refrigerator, taped to your computer monitor at work or under your keyboard if you would like privacy. Writing it down where you will naturally see it will position you to gently guide yourself back throughout the year.

How does your New Year’s Intention compare to the resolutions you have set in past? I would love to hear! Connect with me at [email protected] or on instagram @counselingandyoga.

About the author: Katy practices at Austin Family Counseling where she provides relationship and couples counseling, and counseling to individual adults and teens navigating life’s many challenges.
Katy Manganella, M.A., LPC-Intern is supervised by Susan Gonzales, LPC-S, LMFT-S.


LGBT and Family During the Holidays

LGBT and Family during the holidays

LGBT and Family During the Holidays

By: Natalie Love, LPC, and LMFT-Associate
Supervised by Sabrina Kindell, LPC-S, LMFT-S

This time of year is full of nostalgic sights, sounds, & smells. At every turn there are windows filled with decorations, holiday songs pumping through the speakers, even a myriad of holiday flavored coffees in red & green cups. We want to think of this season as magical & joyful, but for many LGBTQ+ individuals, there can be a lot of anxiety and anticipation around seeing family for the holidays. It is not uncommon for shame to be associated with family during the holidays.

Multiple studies have shown that LGBTQ+ individuals have higher rates of depression, anxiety, suicidal ideation, and substance abuse due to negative experiences around coming out, verbal & physical harassment, and isolation. During the holidays, emotional challenges can be magnified, especially when anticipating family gatherings. Even when family and friends are accepting, past emotional history, trauma, and the need to lessen or hide your true self can be persistent.

Having a self care plan can be a good way to prepare for the challenges that come with the holiday season.

1. Boundaries  

Try to set limits with yourself and others. Remember that you always have a choice. Sometimes it can feel like the holidays are full of obligations but you can always politely and firmly decline. If you choose to visit family, set clear boundaries. For instance, having your own place to stay can be a way to create comfort and safety for yourself.  This way if you feel uncomfortable or need a break you have a separate space to go.  You can always choose to stay with a friend, loved one, or in a hotel.  If tensions arise or you feel emotionally escalated, take a time out. Step outside, take a deep breath, go for a drive. Offer to walk the dog, run to the store for a forgotten item.  Whatever you need to get calm and take care of yourself.

2. Acceptance

Try to manage your expectations. You can bring acceptance to the table by remembering things are not perfect, nor do they have to be. You can only control your own behavior. Try to avoid heated arguments or debates, they rarely lead anywhere productive, instead attempt to let go and accept the situation as it is, even if it’s not ideal.

3. Compassion & Gratitude

Try to cultivate compassion by remembering that some of the family problems and attitudes you are now facing may have been going on for generations, and this may help you gain some perspective and diminish blame. This is the family you have been given, so try to find ways to understand and accept them while maintaining your own integrity. They may not be offering you the kind of acceptance you desire, but modeling acceptance can be a great step in showing them how to embrace differences.  Even if things don’t go according to plan, finding gratitude in even the smallest things, can serve your own well-being.  To keep things in perspective, try considering 1 or 2 moments you are thankful for at the end of each day.

Holiday events and celebrations often involve alcohol.  Remember that conversations and debates can get more emotionally charged when people are drinking.  Try to be responsible with consuming alcohol and keep in mind that others may say inappropriate things when drinking.  If you are able to stay clear headed it will be easier to take care of yourself and avoid getting pulled into an unproductive, possibly hurtful, alcohol driven debate.


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