It’s difficult these days to go to a store, watch TV, or sift through email without being reminded that the holiday season is here. For many people, this time of year brings tremendous joy and connection with loved ones. But the holidays can also be a stressful time for families, even under the best of circumstances. And when families have been impacted by crime and violence, the holidays can be a time of complex, difficult emotions and considerations.
At Partnership for Safety and Justice, we’ve seen this first-hand. PSJ is a statewide advocacy organization working to create safe, healthy communities. We pioneered a model that works with all of the people most impacted by crime and violence –people who have been victimized by crime, people who have been convicted of crime, and the families of each.
Many people who have survived crime experience joy, laughter and excitement during the holidays, but may also experience anxiety, anger and grief. The holidays can trigger flashbacks and nightmares. People may experience physical reactions, like difficulty sleeping, headaches and stomach problems. People whose loved ones have been victimized by crime can experience these responses, too, especially when a loved one has been killed.
We’ve learned that for our members who are incarcerated or who have loved one in prison, the holidays can also be a challenging time. People who are incarcerated are physically separated from their loved ones and unable to participate in festive activities with family and friends in the community. People who have a loved one in prison may feel disconnected from their loved one and struggle to explain to friends and family why their loved one is unable to celebrate the holidays in person.
The holidays can be a daunting time because of heightened emotions and expectations. But the holidays can also be a time of renewed and deeper connections. Many of our members have found ways to take charge of the holidays instead of having the holidays take charge of them. There isn’t one “right” way to take charge of the holidays; each person can find different techniques that help them. The following suggestions have helped some people impacted by crime and violence cope during the holidays and may be useful for you or your family and friends:
Remember that you can’t change the past, but you can manage today and build a healthy tomorrow.
Try to accept that you might have mixed feelings about the holidays.
Try to think through and plan how you will cope with stress before the holidays. This may mean deciding how you will answer questions about the victimization or having a loved one in prison, or deciding how long you will stay at a gathering.
Remember to take care of yourself. Take time to relax, exercise, eat healthy food and sleep. Do something nice for yourself each day, even if it’s as simple as listening to your favorite song or eating your favorite snack.
Check in with yourself to see if your expectations are realistic.
- Plan ahead if you can. Last-minute decisions may feel overwhelming.
- Allow yourself time and space to grieve if you feel sad. Crying can be a healthy way to release emotions.
- Take time to remember. Place a plate with a flower in your loved one’s honor at the dinner table or display a special picture of your loved one.
- Develop new traditions as you would like, but hang on to the old traditions you like, too.
- Seek a support group. Talking to others who are going through similar things can provide support and community.
- Let your family and friends know how you are feeling. Chances are they may be feeling the same things too, and it is OK if they’re feeling something different.
- Balance solitude and sociability. Rest can help you renew strength; friends and family can lift your spirits. It’s OK to enjoy the holidays, even if you want to cry later.
- Be patient with yourself. As time goes by, you can develop ways to cope during the holidays that work well for you.
- Look to the future. Instead of comparing today with the “good old days,” think about hopes and goals for the coming year.
- Check the weather. Lack of sunlight can impact how people feel (this can be common during the short, cloudy days of the Northwest winters). If you are able, consider doing something you enjoy outside. Even the little bit of sunlight you get on cloudy days can be enough to help.
We at PSJ hope that your holidays are filled with love, joy and connection to the people you love. We wish you a bright, happy, safe and healthy new year to come.
Kerry Naughton is the director of the Crime Survivors Program for the Partnership for Safety and Justice. PSJ is a statewide, non-profit advocacy organization dedicated to making Oregon’s approach to crime and public safety more effective and just.