Fostering Growth and Healing During the Holidays, by Sarah M. Frank LMFT, ATR-BC

Here we are in the midst of the winter holiday season once again. For some it is a time of happy memories, decorations and gifts, festivity, and time-honored traditions from childhood. This may not, however, be the experience for everyone, especially those who have survived trauma or abuse, struggle with addictions, or who deal with depression or anxiety that make it hard to find pleasure in even ordinary things. The holidays can imply social pressure, guilt, shame, sadness, and anniversaries of difficult times making one feel even more isolated and hopeless.

If you identify with the latter experience, even to a small degree, it may be helpful to try the following suggestions. The first is to spend some time identifying self-care practices that help you to tolerate distress, inspire positivity, and/or self soothe. Putting these practices into action will shore you up for stressful times and can be used as needed while in stressful situations (both physical and mental). Take time to check in with yourself on all levels: your thoughts, memories, feelings, and physical state. It helps to begin with the basics included in the acronym “H.A.L.T.”, asking yourself “am I hungry, angry, lonely, or tired?” and responding accordingly to address the issue(s). Try journaling, talking to a friend/therapist/sponsor/family member/partner, eating a healthy meal or snack, drinking a soothing non-alcoholic/non-caffeinated beverage, meditating, taking a nap, etc..

The other suggestion has to do with creating or re-creating rituals and traditions of your own that represent your goals and intentions for growth, happiness, fulfillment, or wherever you would like your personal journey to take you. Rituals and traditions take many forms. The Merriam-Webster dictionary (n.d.) defines ritual as a ceremonial or religious practice, or being in accordance with social custom or normal protocol. “Tradition” is defined as “an inherited, established, or customary pattern of thought, action, or behavior (such as a religious practice or a social custom)” (Tradition, n.d.). Holiday rituals and traditions may be passed down in families, particular to one’s community, practiced by religious groups, or gleaned from television or advertisements. They can also be created, invented, designed, and even made up with the idea that they can continue on, symbolizing positive personal intention.

I recently listened to the audio recording of Brené Brown’s book, “The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed To Be and Embrace Who You Are” (Brown, 2010). Brown shares about the importance of creativity, naming it as one of 10 guideposts for “wholehearted living”. Brown provides personal anecdotes as well as research data gathered from people “living and loving with their whole hearts despite the risks and uncertainty”, (Brown, n.d.). One of the messages I took from this is that creativity helps us to feel more complete and balanced, encouraging playfulness, connectedness, and experimentation. Another important message from Brown is that everyone can engage in creativity, it is not limited to those with artistic talent.

I encourage you to think creatively of something you might like to start doing this holiday season, either as a solitary practice or with others you feel close to. Maybe buying yourself a gift, volunteering for a charitable cause, spending quality time with an animal you love, building and displaying a diorama of a place you’d like to visit (real or imagined), making prayer beads for someone in need (yourself included), having a multi-ethnic potluck, and so on. Maybe you will want to do it again next year, maybe not. Either way you are actively engaging in creative problem-solving and self-care.
Remember to be gentle with yourself, especially if the holidays are difficult time for you. I hope this has been helpful and I wish you a positive and enjoyable holiday season filled with self-affirmation, hope, and love.

1. Brown, B. (2010). The gifts of imperfection: Let go of who you think you’re supposed to be and embrace who you are [Audible audiobook]. Retrieved from

2. Brown, B. (n.d.). Brené brown. Retrieved from

3. Ritual. (n.d.). Retrieved December 13, 2017, from

4. Tradition. (n.d.). Retrieved December 13, 2017, from

Elana Clark-Faler
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