Ask the Expert: Dr. Jody Friesen Grande of HopeAllianz

We feature an expert in the mental health and substance use disorder field to answer questions. This issue we talk to Dr. Jody Friesen Grande of HopeAllianze about thriving and coping with holiday stress.

Q: Could you please share a little bit about your background and what led you to working as a holistic therapist/counselor, coach, and care manager?

After 20 years working in the corporate world, I knew there had to be something more. Returning to college in my mid 30’s, thinking I was going after an MBA, I quickly learned from a career test that I should look at social work. I have never doubted that decision – it was the right fit for me. I recall my stepson locked in a psychiatric ward looking out the window of the door as if he was asking “Why can’t I go with you?” My heart was broken, and I knew I had to find a way to fix this. Well, it was not that easy – broken people and broken systems. From here I went on to help individuals and families experiencing mental illness. My focus has changed with life transitions, loss and grief becoming more prominent these days. Covid changed the landscaping with anxiety, depression, loneliness, and mental health issues surfacing for many and don’t forget the trauma that the political climate and world issues are having on many. I have become “seasoned” with 28 years of practice and continue to learn daily from my clients.

Q: What are the common sources of stress and anxiety that people experience during the holidays?

According to Perrigo (via PR Newswire), a 2018 study found that 88% of Americans felt more stress during the holidays, experiencing an increase in fatigue, stress, irritability, and sadness. The American Psychological Association report that women shoulder more of the responsibility of the holiday planning and feeling overwhelmed with limited time to get everything done.

Q: Are there any warning signs or signals that someone may be struggling with holiday stress?

You just don’t feel like yourself – fatigued, isolated, avoidance, and hiding. Ongoing worry or racing thoughts that keep you from living life daily; excessive irritability and anger; emotional explosions for no reason; feelings of hopelessness or thoughts of self-injury or suicide. Help is available ~ talk to someone today! Call 988 Suicide and Crisis Hotline.

Q: What role does self-care play in managing holiday stress, and what self-care practices do you recommend?

Self-care is critical! You have a lot on your plate during the holidays and probably being pulled in many different directions. Don’t forget to take care of yourself … plan time for YOU. Move your body/exercise; get outside and get fresh air; eat healthy foods; sleep; and avoid using substances to manage your stress. Try something new: Mindfulness, Yoga or Spa treatments; checkout apps like Headspace or Calm.

Q: How can individuals maintain hope and a positive outlook during the holidays, especially if they are dealing with difficult circumstances or losses?

Losses can come in many different forms: Death, divorce, trauma, PTSD, health, career, faith or pets. Grieving the loss is a difficult journey – each person’s loss is uniquely defined. There is no time limit, and no one is right or wrong. The first step is to acknowledge your loss and know that it is a normal response for your situation. Feel the loss and pain … embrace the moment.

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Recently, in sessions, I hear about losses of aging and how my clients are unable to do what they did ten years ago. They begin to go there, and it takes them down a rabbit-hole – all of a sudden, we have concerns about our health and doctor visits. This can be an unidentified loss. But the individual is not ready to do anything about it because they don’t think they can. Acknowledge the change! Then move forward to what do I want my life to be? What can I add or change in my life? For example, wake up each morning with an affirmation that expresses energized vitality; exercise; socialize; and each day plan an activity that gives you pleasure.

Loss of a loved one is difficult. Memories are always within our hearts and our thoughts, especially during the holidays which bring about loneliness. Plan traditions that help you … some will light a candle, others set an empty chair at the dinner table. My personal one is I place my Christmas tree on the deck so that my husband can see it from heaven (this was his last visual before he passed). There is an Eskimo legend that states, “Perhaps they are not stars in the sky but rather openings to heaven when our loved ones shine down to let us know [we are loved and] they are happy.” Check out “Coping with Grief During the Holidays” for other ideas on remembering your loved one

Q: How can one strike a balance between maintaining traditions and reducing holiday-related stress and expectations?

Embrace simplicity and focus on what is important to you for the holidays. Don’t try to do it all in one or two days … spread it out over time. The Mayo Clinic suggests the following: Plan ahead; say no; plan spending and set limits; create relaxing surroundings; share feelings; respect differences; be realistic and flexible; take a break (naps are good ).

Q: Can you share some effective communication strategies for setting boundaries and managing holiday-related conflicts with family or friends?

Understand that your needs are important! Use your voice – be firm but gentle. You may notice someone is off – ask them, “Are you ok ___? This just isn’t like you.” You will show that you care and maybe get the person to stop and think about what they are doing. Or you have to confront a person in an assertive manner. Use three questions: 1) Acknowledge – “I care about you” or “I understand what you are asking for.” 2) I Feel – “I am feeling ______ (anxious, overwhelmed, confused).” 3) “How can we find a way together to resolve this issue?” When all else fails, give yourself permission to walk away – “This conversation has become too overwhelming for me at this time, and I am going to step away.” Honor your feelings and be respective of others.

Q: Are there specific techniques or strategies you recommend for coping with holiday-related stress and emotional challenges, particularly for individuals who are in recovery from mental health or substance use disorders?

Rewrite your story: What are the benefits of focusing on wellness during the holidays. What do you need to maintain a healthy holiday? What do you want? It is okay to set boundaries and limits. Who are the healthy people in your life you want to spend time with? Are there people you would prefer to have shortened visits with? Big Brothers Big Sisters suggest physical activity can aid emotional distress during the holiday if approached with an attitude of leisure, relaxation, and pleasure. Examples include basketball, soccer, running, walking hiking, biking, tai chi, yoga, dance, skating, etc.

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DBT Skills ACCEPTS utilize skills to help you manage negative experiences until you are able to address and eventually resolve the situation:

ACTIVITIES to keep your mind off negative emotions.
CONTRIBUTING by doing something kind for another person.
COMPARISONS to put life in perspective.
EMOTIONS to invoke the opposite feeling of distress.
PUSH AWAY for when you can’t deal with something just yet.
THOUGHTS replace with activities.
SENSATIONS use your five senses to self-soothe.

Q: Are there any resources, such as books, articles, or workshops, that you recommend for further support and information on this topic?

  • 10 Tips for Staying Sober During the Holidays
  • Chicken Soup for the Soul: Time for Christmas: 101 Tales of Holiday Joy, Love & Gratitude (Amy Newmark) 2023
  • Grief Recovery Handbook: The Action Program for Moving Beyond Death, Divorce, and other Losses including Health, Career, and Faith (John W James and Russell Friedman) 2009
  • Unpickled Holiday Survival Guide: Staying Alcohol Free During the Festival Season (Jean McCarthy) 2019
  • Unplug the Christmas Machine: A Complete Guide to Putting Love and Joy Back into the Season (Jo Robinson and Jean Staeheli) 1991

References


HopeAllianz Inc was organized in 1994 by Dr. Jody L Friesen Grande and provides a full spectrum of holistic counseling/therapy, personal coaching, senior care management and caregiving tools, lifeskills training and educational services to address the needs of individuals, couples, families and the community.

Clients have described HopeAllianz as a sanctuary, which provides an atmosphere of acceptance and guidance, is non-judgmental, safe, unique, confidential, supportive, inspiring, creative, optimistic, hopeful, understanding, honest, stable, compassionate, and peaceful. Clients feel like they make a connection with others, learn about emotional management, and are forever evolving and growing. A place where preventive medicine and health is encouraged and personal renewal is found. (A special thank you to the DBT LifeSkills Training Group that provided this description.)

Dr. Grande is committed to helping you on your life journey ~ assisting and supporting you in creating an authentic meaningful life that reflects your beliefs, values, and priorities. Therapy/counseling is a choice and can be something sacred and beautiful when explored, born, and manifested… discovering there is a full range of experiences to embrace.

Last Updated on November 13, 2023

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