COLUMN: About the holidays

Christmas isn't merry for everyone in Squamish, but there are ways to combat the stress

Judging by social media feeds, this time of year is purely awesome. Scroll Facebook or Instagram and a glut of perfectly framed pictures of ski weekends, beautifully decorated trees, absurdly fun staff parties, and model-like kids sitting — and smiling — on Santa's lap float by.

Everyone seems happy and without a care in the world.

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Families seem excited to see each other and meals appear to be joyful memory makers.

But the curated, picture-perfect ideal is likely not the reality for everyone in Squamish. Some may have lost a loved one this year or are struggling with addictions; others are newly separated or divorced. Others don't have the money to lavish gifts on their children, nevermind buy presents for friends, teachers or co-workers.

The Chief caught up with local clinical counsellor Jamal Ahmelich, of Sound Mind Counselling Centre, to talk about the holidays and the pressures that mount at this time of year.

What follows is an edited version of that conversation.

Q: For some in Squamish, this time of year can be difficult. What are some ways to make it better?

A: Limiting social media, if that is a trigger. There is some research that shows life satisfaction decreases with increased use of social media.

Also, trying to plan holiday schedules so they are more manageable is helpful, too. Make sure you factor in "you" time. Also, be honest with yourself about what you can handle and be OK to say 'no' if you feel something is too much.

Q: With divorce, often one parent or the other is alone for part of the holidays. What advice do you have for people who find themselves alone at Christmas?

A: One of the big things is practicing gratitude or doing things that shift the focus away from yourself and into the community. For example, volunteering or getting out and connecting with friends. The Squamish Library has a great resource to help people find volunteer opportunities.

 Be sure to practice self-care, too.

Q: There's a lot of financial pressure at this time of year. What is your advice for tackling that stress?

A: Try to stick to a budget when it comes to gift giving. It doesn't need to cost a lot of money. It really is the thought that counts. A lot of people forget that simple component.

Q: Obviously, some people don't celebrate Christmas at all, but in our culture, we are bombarded with the holiday. What about those folks?

A: It is hard to avoid. At this time of year, too, there isn't very much light. It can be more isolating at this time of year. Keep up with things that are important  —  getting into nature is a big one. Even just a five-minute walk can have such a positive impact on mood and energy. Keep up with exercise and social connections — go for a coffee with someone, for example.

Q: What about for kids? People expect this to be a happy time for them, but it isn't necessarily a calm and peaceful time for all children.

A: Kids can feel the stress of adults, so, modeling self-care is important. Keeping kids in their routines is also important: where they are able to do the things they are supposed to be doing at a time when things are a bit chaotic with travel and going to see extended family.

Making sure they are getting enough sleep, definitely.

Q: What about if things do go off the rails? Say, Christmas dinner turns into a big fight, for example.

A: That is where letting go of expectations and just accepting things for what they are comes in. It is a stressful time for a lot of people so those kinds of things do happen.

Going back to that gratitude thing is such an important piece — you are together with the family and things can happen, but that might not be the case next year. Always remember that even though things happen, you are together.

Squamish clinical counsellor Jamal Ahmelich. - Submitted photo

Q: We have talked about being down over the holidays and feeling overwhelmed. What are some cues that people may need to seek professional help?

A: Anybody can use a therapist. It is just to be able to process those events in our lives. When you are feeling overwhelmed, and when you are feeling stressed, and it is maybe unmanageable, that can be the cue to seek professional help.

Q: Anything else you wanted to mention about this time of year?

A: Be mindful of substance use. People can overdo it. Remember that alcohol is a depressant.

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