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As we move past the Thanksgiving Holiday and enter the month of December, the expectation is that we begin to prepare for more good times with family and friends during what is supposed to be a season of peace and joy. We begin to prepare for the holidays that best match our family values and cultural beliefs and we are hopeful for the future as we think of New Year’s resolutions.

This year, for many of us, our holiday spirit has been shaken by tragic events that have impacted our community. Just recently, State Trooper Cody Donahue was hit and killed on our local highway and a mother and her two young sons were found dead after being reported missing. We ask ourselves how such tragedy could happen in our own backyard. We wonder about the whys and the story behind the tragic news. Many of the questions often go unanswered and leave us just hoping that such events don’t repeat themselves.

We all react differently to traumatic events regardless of our age or connection to the event. Typically, though, people may become irritable, fearful, withdrawn or anxious. These are common feelings and they are normal. We at AllHealth Network want to encourage you to practice some self-care strategies and be mindful of your feelings and how they may be impacting your behavior with the end goal of having a healthy and meaningful holiday season. You can help yourself, friends and family in these ways:

Be honest and open when talking with children and teens and listen to their concerns. If your children are aware of the tragedies in our community, they may have questions or bring it up unexpectedly. Answer the questions they ask and know that too much information is not necessarily better. Keep it simple, listen for what they are really asking you. Usually they want to be reassured that they are safe, that you are in charge and that the routine they are used to will stay the same. If they are impacted by challenging situations at home or at school, you may notice changes in eating, sleeping and socialization patterns and they may be more irritable. Whenever a person's regular life habits change drastically, it is usually a sign that they are in distress. Any traumatic event can cause those things to happen. Listen to them, provide support and if you become concerned or if symptoms persist, listen to your gut, take action, get them help from a professional.

Have coping strategies in mind so you are ready when you need them: Some ideas include; connecting with others, journaling, exercise, eating healthy, avoiding caffeine, sugar, nicotine and alcohol and most importantly do what you can to get plenty of sleep.

Pay it forward: Giving to others fosters our sense of generosity and helps the GIVER feel better. Most of us receive more pleasure in giving than receiving. Consider giving your time to someone in need. How about inviting a neighbor over for a meal or to join you for an event. Consider volunteering at your child’s school or helping out a co-worker in need. Shoveling a sidewalk or making cookies for someone who would least expect such a yummy treat would be a welcomed gesture.

Participate in activities you enjoy: We want to encourage you to participate in a few activities and traditions that you enjoy. The Denver Metro area has numerous family friendly events. Check out this list to get you started.

Keep it simple: Often times we burden ourselves with the unrealistic, unhealthy notion that holiday celebrations need to be perfect. We encourage you to try a new strategy; slow down, keep it simple, and concentrate on time together rather than material things. It is really the time with family and friends that we all remember rather than the details that we often fuss and stress over.

Our holiday wish for you is that you will slow down, enjoy time with family and friends and know that we have much to be thankful for. Happy Holidays!

Laurie Elliott, LCSW
Director, Child and Family Services
AllHealth Network – Serving the behavioral health needs of our community since 1955.