by Welby O’Brien
Winter is off to a brutal start this year for many of us. And just the mention of the holidays and the Christmas season can send chills up our spines! Along with guilt because this SHOULD be “the most wonderful time of the year”… or so they say. Add to that the imposed assumption that people of faith should NOT get stressed about anything, let alone one of our most quintessential days of celebration!
Unfortunately, we are human. Christians or not, this can be a very hard time for many. Cold stormy weather, darkness, power outages, holiday hooplas, excessive special events, family stresses, increased financial pressures, painful memories, extra obligations, overloaded schedules, junk food galore, lack of exercise, more crowds, less space, emotional upheavals, etc.
I received a desperate message from a young mother reeling from a recent divorce:
“There’s no way I am going to make it through this year!”
We all know the feeling! Whether we’re ready to pull out our hair, or in the depths of despair and ready to end it all, none of this seasonal stress is helpful to ANYONE. Especially those who are suffering. You may be homeless, or have lost a loved one, or are battling cancer, or are a PTSD survivor … to name a few. And the ripple effect of the stress deeply impacts all loved ones as well.
So since we cannot fast-forward to spring, how do we best make it through these colder, darker, busier, more painful days?
Personally, I have survived winter during divorce, during grief, and now as the grateful wife of a 100% disabled veteran with PTSD. Knowing the Lord and leaning heavily on His promises IN the cold and darkness has been my lifeline. But even then, the stresses and challenges still wage war against all of us.
Here are a few things that have helped me:
- Be aware of your triggers.
What circumstances (and people) cause your stress to increase? Learn to recognize your symptoms as well as what triggers them.
- Stay tuned to your body’s warning signals.
Listen to your body. Learn to trust it. Does that headache, or indigestion, or grinding teeth mean anything? In order to survive, we need to be aware of our needs and be able to communicate them (before we have a meltdown!)
- Do all you can to stay safe and healthy.
Each of us is a choice maker. Although illness, PTSD, grief and stress can be tyrannical at times, ultimately we have the power to choose what is best for us in the long run. And not giving in to destructive behaviors will pay off, not only for us but for those we love.
- Remember you can’t keep everyone happy.
Surprise! (I’m just now learning this!) Plan to disappoint a few people if necessary in order to save your own sanity. Do try, however, to be polite if possible. Learning to say, “No, thank you,” graciously comes with practice.
- Be good to you.
Take time to do what you need and want. This is no longer a luxury but a necessity. I call it my “Survival Checklist”… found in the books Formerly A Wife and Good-bye for Now. And for caregivers and loved ones under stress, LOVE OUR VETS: Restoring Hope for Families of Veterans with PTSD devotes the entire middle section to caring for our OWN needs. Do you even know what you really NEED? Perhaps a light box to perk up the dark days, your favorite music, a new winter activity/sport, tastier cuisine, afternoon naps, indoor exercise, a canine companion, etc. You are worth it!
- Surround yourself with good support and call for extra help if needed.
Who are the people who are helpful (not the leech type)? Reach out to those who are supportive. How did we swallow the lie that toughing it out alone is more heroic? God designed us to need Him first and each other second. The courage to reach out for help when needed is truly admirable! Call a friend or someone you know who cares. There are people waiting to talk with you.
National Crisis Hotline: 1-800-273-8255
700 Club Hotline 1-800-759-0700
Veterans and loved ones: Chaplain Rich Strait (231)288-4222
- Cherish the beautiful moments.
No matter how much craziness this life throws at us, there is always something for which to be grateful. Don’t forget to pause during the chaos to give thanks for all the blessings you DO have. A good place to start is Christmas itself, and WHO we are celebrating!
There is no need to dread the days ahead. Stay connected with God, and with those who are good for you, and take care of YOU. One day – one moment – at a time. It will be spring before you know it! (And then we will be probably be moaning about the heat, pulling weeds, and sunburn!)