Mental health providers recommend individuals with the “holiday blues” speak up and reach out for help.
Individuals should be realistic in their expectations of the holidays, they said. And if feelings of anxiety and depression persist, there are support resources for civilians and military members.
“If there is a secret to managing holiday stress it is simply to decide what you want and learn how to ask for it,” said Greg Loskoski, employee assistance program coordinator with the Fraser Counseling Center. Loskoski said stress during Christmas and New Year’s often arises when an individual places unrealistic expectations on themselves or those around them.
“In financial terms the desire to buy presents overwhelms the resources of our bank accounts,” Loskoski said. “In terms of time, the expectation that we attend every party and event offered by our friends, family, work and social group can overwhelm the resources that we have available. In terms of energy, the things we put ourselves through to ‘get ready’ for the holidays leave us worn out.”
Loskoski said individuals should speak with loved ones about how they envision the holidays, but should also set reasonable boundaries.
“At some point, you will have to learn to say ‘no’,” Loskoski said. “Go through the list of things upon which you will spend money and decide what you will spend. Go through the list of all the holiday events and choose the ones that are most suitable to your celebration. Decide where and how you will spend your energy.”
Lt. Col. Tyson Wood, a family life chaplain at Fort Stewart, advises soldiers and their families “not to hold anything in.” Wood, a Catholic priest, is also a marriage and family counselor.
“In every battalion sized unit, there is a chaplain,” Wood said. “There is someone that can help them with their spiritual needs and their other needs. If you’re not helping them directly, you’re heading them to someone who can help them.”
Wood said soldiers need to speak up if they are struggling emotionally. Otherwise, the people who are there to help don’t know they need it.
He said the Army is training its NCOs in suicide prevention. Wood is also a trainer in a program that teaches leaders to bring a human dimension into their leadership.
“It teaches you to treat people very decently,” Wood said. “If you know them, you can really set yourself to helping them.”
Wood said family support groups are also available to help during the holidays and year-round, such as during the strain of a household move.
“We really have some pretty aggressive family support people, people who are willing to take under their wing these new families,” Wood said.
He said many spouses in family support groups “are fully engaged” and even though they are not paid professionals, they are willing to give time and compassion to soldiers’ families.
“My advice to anyone wrestling with some anxiety difficulties is to seek those resources, and trust those resources,” Wood said. “People care and want to help. The military has poured a lot of money into behavioral health to lessen burdens on families.”
Wood said military life is stressful, but the military tries to put services in place to help mitigate that stress, such as providing soldiers sponsors to help guide them when they arrive at a new post.
“We do have people who move around this time of year, who are deployed around this time of year,” the chaplain said.