Change Counseling Emotional Intelligence Holiday self-care

Thanksgiving Day 2016

Thanksgiving Day | Going Home | Family Dynamics

Thanksgiving Day 2016

Ah, it’s that time again.

We are about to climb into our cars, board planes, or open our homes to family members and friends to celebrate an American tradition: coming together at the Thanksgiving Day meal, tossing around the ball for a friendly game of flag football, and figuring out how on earth we were ever comfortable sleeping on those tiny, double-sized twin beds.

This year has another special feature to integrate. How do we integrate or avoid arguing with people over conflicting views about the the new presidential administration and proposed changes? And what, if anything, does this have to do with your mental and emotional health?

You tell me. I mean, literally: you all have been telling me over the last two weeks. People are reporting that they are thinking about this challenge. People are asking me what to consider as they make plans to spend time with family, friends, and community members, as its citizens discuss their views of the future under a new president and administration.

And some are already changing plans, based on what is happening in their homes and friend’s home, with some of that decision having nothing to do with the election. They have long-standing conflict that has been lingering for years.

Read on for more tips to consider before you meet together. 

Change Psychology Racism

Peace On Earth

Peace On Earth

White LED lights of a multi-pronged snowflake star, and small lights on the branches of tall tree, lit for the annual celebration in the neighborhood.
Can there still be magic in the air around the holidays, in the midst of violence, pain, and tragedy? Photo by Imei Hsu, taken with an iPhone 5s. Dec. 5, 2015. Use by permission only.

As I walked around the neighborhood all lit up with holiday lights in the trees and buildings, I tried to feel the magic of the winter season. Rain was coming down steadily, yet the people who had gathered for the town’s lighting of the tree were prepared with rain ponchos, coats, and large poke-you-in-the-eye bumbershoots and umbrellas. The voices of young children singing a Hanukah classic, The Dredel song, lifted into the evening air, and the spotlights waved steadily for everyone to feel the cheer of yet another bigger, better, LED light-filled celebration. It truly was bigger than last year.

I tried to feel the magic. I really did. All I could think about was that horrible statistic that we are all saying we are sick of:  there has been more mass shootings in the U.S. than there are days in a single year (depending on how you count them, but one is one to many). Children are killing children. People are entering public buildings with semi-automatic rifles and killing people in combinations of random and/or highly planned acts of violence.

Usually every December, I’ve tried to write a blog post about the season from the perspective of this therapist who’s main task is to help hurting individuals, couples, and families heal and learn to make the best possible decisions they can for themselves and the people they love. This post is really no different, just with less words and no how-to’s.

The only magic I could get in touch with that night at the lighting festival was through the eyes of children. They are the ones who know next to nothing about what is going on in our country, let alone our world. They are being shielded for now, and rightly so, from graphic images and language that detail the hurts in this world: racism and bigotry, bullying, terrorism, the suffering of refugees, mass bombings, greed and selfishness, and yes, even the callous acts of millions who allow the eroding of our planet’s natural resources to slip away, one glacier at a time.

Those little eyes were glowing as children ran along the lighted path, listening to bagpipers and drummers, watching bell choirs ring music through their arm movements, and fire dancers and flame throwers lighting up the air. No matter their race, gender, religion, or economic background, they were children at play.

This past week, I had observed the reaction of friends, strangers, and fellow city dwellers talk about the news from Paris to Syria, to San Bernardino to China. There is a palpable, heaviness to these conversations, and no matter what part of the gun debate you might be on,  your personal views on global warming, or whether our country is capable of expediting the relocation of Syrian refugees, there is one thing we all want, one thing that binds all these conversations.

We do long for peace. We just understand that it doesn’t come by magic, by wishes, nor by prayer unaccompanied by action. We want peace, and we understand it will come with a price. 

Most things that we should ever want in this life come with a sacrifice, which is probably why so many of us — myself included! — are so very fascinated by studying, appreciating, and memorializing the sacrifices of others.

As I long for peace, I understand that that peace comes with a cost, to myself and each person who longs for it as well. As I watched dancer after dancer on the Bollywood stage in the Town Center entertaining the crowds, who were made up of humans who for one moment did not think it strange at all, yet rather delightful, that we were dancing and clapping to music from thousands of miles away, I was sincerely delighted. I was hopeful that we might experience this again and again, just like this. 

The same children who were watching the dance show would later join each other on the short train ride around the outdoor mall, have henna drawn on their hands, and hold those hands as they skated around the makeshift “ice rink”. Young and old alike would ooh and ahh at the artist who sculpted ice with a chainsaw and a power drill. All of us felt something for the small boys who took off their shoes and stood on cold and wet brick before stepping on the stage to dance to the beat of bhangra drums.

This cost us something. It cost us change. It cost us flexibility and openness. It cost us our past hate and bias. It asked us to risk by trusting. And it rewarded us with this moment of peace and beauty.

It was a good thing it was dark and raining, so no one could see that I was crying out of joy. It’s such a small, quiet thing.

Peace on Earth.


As reminder, the Seattle Direct Counseling office will be closed from Dec. 24  2015 through Jan. 3 2016. If you are a current client, you will be given instructions on how to seek emergency or crisis-oriented care should you need it. If you are wishing to schedule sessions in January as a new client, please contact us directly before the office closes for the year.

No matter how you celebrate the end of the year — Ramadan, Rosh Hoshana and Hanukah, Christmas, Winter Solstice,  and New Year’s Eve — Allie and I  wish you a happy, healthy holiday time!


Depression Holiday self-care

How To Avoid The Holiday Blues

As a therapist for ten years, you could say that I am an “expert” at noticing patterns of behavior in people. Now that we’re in the middle of the holiday trio (Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s Day), it is not uncommon to hear my clients talk about something I refer to as, “The Holiday Blues”.  In fact, it is such a common phenomenon, it ought to have its own hashtag on Twitter!  If you know you get a bit depressed, cranky, and stressed around this time of year, this is the article for you.

What are the Holiday Blues? The signs and symptoms mimic a situational depressed mood: feelings of stress or panic, fatigue, changes in appetite, withdrawal from friends and family, feelings of sadness and loss, unexplained over-responsive anger, loneliness, and insomnia. With the depressed mood can be some mixed anxiety from the stress that may be present around holiday times.

Do holidays give you the blues?

Rx For The Holiday Blues. Too bad there isn’t a pill you can take to treat HB symptoms. But there are a few things you can do that will likely reduce the depressed feelings mixed with anxiety.

1. Schedule “down time”  for yourself. Do not pack your schedule too tightly. Let your mind rest instead of forcing it to dash around as you carry it here and there. My pick: do a some light yoga stretches, take a hot bath, listen to quiet music.

2. Prepare for family visits with some encouraging but realistic  self-talk. Lower your expectations, and avoid highly charged conversations where shameful and embarrassing situations may emerge. Aim for one meaningful moment per day with them, where you make a note to yourself to enjoy something about being together.

3. If the holidays mean eating large quantities of sugar and fat, plan accordingly so you don’t experience the associated mood swings. Increase your water intake, and include activities away from the restaurant and the kitchen. Taking a a walk after a meal can be a way to get a little movement in.

4. Watch your spending, and physically record your spending somewhere you can see to avoid credit card bill shock mid-January. Many people turn to retail therapy to feel good, or we simply lose track of the added expenses of gift giving and holiday partying. Create a budget, and do not give yourself excuses to break that budget in a way that will put needless stress on you during the following billing cycle.

5. Give yourself permission to acknowledge losses and change. The family may have lost or gained new members, or the holidays might remind you how time continues to march on regardless of your best efforts to remain still.  You might need time to grieve, cry, or laugh hysterically over those changes. Both laughter and tears can be therapeutic.

What I’m describing here is congruency of feeling and expression. Repressed emotions can emerge during highly stressful times when we feel the expectations of others. While it’s good to know exactly how you feel when these emotions emerge, they don’t always come up at a time it’s appropriate to share them with someone else. Find healthy ways to express those emotions: record them in a journal, share with a trusted friend, take a walk by yourself, scream in your car, or talk to a therapist.

6. The Holiday Blues can also be associated with the lack of sunlight if you live in the Northern Hemisphere. I’ve posted information about this in my article about Vitamin D and sunlight.  Vacation time in a sunny place, UV light exposure, or a special light box made to treat Seasonal Affective Disorder can help lift the winter blahs.

Note: if you’re having more than occasional thoughts about harming yourself or taking your life, put a plan in place to help you feel safe. Call a friend, talk to a crisis line counselor, or call your therapist. You do not have to face this alone.

This year, you don’t have to be out with the Holiday Blues. If you have suggestions for how you beat the Holiday Blues, please submit your comments here, or send them to and I’ll reprint them anonymously.