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Virtual advice for coping with a blue Christmas

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The coronavirus may have taken the festive out of many people’s holiday season, but for those experiencing the first Christmas without a loved one or dealing with seasonal affective disorder, this time of year can be particularly tough.

With that in mind, the Woolwich Counselling Centre has partnered with Bereaved Families of Ontario on a digital presentation called “Anything But Merry.” The December 9 virtual education session addresses the emotions and challenges of grieving during the holidays.

“Our agency is very big about partnering with other community agencies to provide services that are needed in the community. And this is definitely a need that we see and we recognize,” said WCC’s Naveen Bengert of joining with Bereaved Families of Ontario.

She notes it’s normal for those dealing with grief to have difficulties around this time of year.

“Here we are, it’s Christmas, or whatever holiday it is for people that they celebrate. It’s time to gather, it’s time to be with family, to share in traditions. And individuals who have lost somebody in their life may find that those things are interrupted or omitted, or that the rest of the people around them expect them to be happy, to kind of go with the flow. It’s Christmas, and they’re not actually feeling that way. So there can be a number of stresses that happen for them in regards to social obligations, responsibilities, like feeling like they have to put on a brave face or a happy face.”

Dealing with that situation is what the presentation is all about, Bengert added.

“It’s going to be identifying the differences that individuals who have lost a loved one may be experiencing , feeling, thinking in comparison to those of us that have not or are not dealing with that issue over this time.”

In addition to loss, many people may be seeing the symptoms of seasonal affective disorder (SAD).

“Seasonal affective disorder impacts one out of every four of us, so it’s quite significant,” explained WCC colleague Beth Mason, who notes some of those symptoms manifest as what we call ‘the holiday blues.’

“SAD is characterized by that feeling or lack of energy, kind of negativity, irritability, anxiety. Sometimes there can be a weight gain or a weight loss, feeling exhausted, and really that lack of motivation,” she said. “That happens with the lack of light that we experience in the winter months here. And then that lack of light, what that’s doing is impacting our serotonin level, which is that mood-enhancing chemical that helps to make us feel better.”

The centre typically sees an increase in the number of people seeking help for SAD-related counselling. With the holidays and the pandemic ongoing, counsellers this year felt it was necessary to run a workshop surrounding SAD and how to cope with it.

A common suggestion would be to travel, but that has been placed under restrictions with the pandemic and COVID-19 measures. Other recommendations include being outdoors even if there isn’t much sun, sitting by a window, light therapy, exercise, and asking your doctor if you should be taking a vitamin D supplement.

To match the fog many feel throughout the darker months, a presentation is set for January 26 to help those in need.

WCC has continued to run services throughout the pandemic, but has moved to mostly virtual since the region has been placed into the “red” category of the provincial framework for reopening.

“Anything But Merry” is set for December 9 at 7 p.m. To register, email info@woolwichcounselling.org or call 519-669-8651.

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