Though the holiday season is a joyous time for most, for others it is the beginning of a difficult time of the year that may bring back the memories of lost loved-ones, failed love or even loneliness. WSMR Army Community Service Family Advocacy Program Manager Espy Garcia and WSMR Army Substance Abuse Program Manager Theresa Martinez want to let the community know that there are ways for everyone to make the most out of the holidays even in the most difficult situations.
“A lot of us tend to get so focused on what is wrong that we take for granted the good that is already present in our lives,” Garcia said. “As a result, this leads to high levels of stress, self-doubt and negative attitudes which negatively impact those around us, our outlook of life and our careers.”
Garcia said the effects of not being thankful or not having a positive outlook on life can also lead to burnout and apathy. She said it is important to be grateful for even the smallest of things. The positive outlook can help create better sleep, improve physical health, create optimism and build healthy connections with others, thus heightening your overall quality of life. She said a positive outlook can be achieved through mindfulness and resiliency.
“No matter how difficult life is and no matter how many challenges you are up against, consider that every difficulty carries within it a seed that creates an opportunity for growth,” Garcia said.
She said a good practice is challenging yourself to imagine losing some of the things that most take for granted, such as their home, the ability to see or hear, the ability to walk, or anything that currently gives comfort. Then, Garcia said, to imagine getting each of these things back, one by one, and consider how gratifying it would be to get each thing back. One way of putting things into perspective is through volunteering.
She said it is also important to consider the joy in the smallest of things instead of focusing on big achievements, like getting a promotion, having more money, getting married or having a baby. Whenever faced with adversity, Garcia said you must ask yourself: What’s good about this? What can I learn from this? How can I benefit or grow from this?
“The holidays offer plenty of reasons to be stressed out and anxious,” Garcia said. “Take time for yourself when you need it.”
Having a realistic expectation of time, money, and party planning also helps to de-stress during the holidays. Remember what is important, and seek support from family and friends to help reduce feelings of being overwhelmed, Garcia said.
Experiencing a loss
Martinez said her last Thanksgiving was spent in the hospital with her 94-year-old mother-in-law who had hip surgery, she passed away six months after the surgery.
“When the surgery was successful, I cried tears of joy and wanted to cherish the moments we had together,” she said. “It didn’t matter that we had fast food on Thanksgiving Day. What was important is the connection we made that day.”
Martinez said her mother-in-law was the epitome of graciousness, even in her final days.
She said she believes a lot of that had to do with her faith, her favorite saying was,” Gracias a Dios,” which translates to thank God in English. She said family, food, and football are an essential part of Thanksgiving but she said adding faith to the routine may make all the difference.
“My mother-in-law, was the happiest person I have ever met,” she said. “Despite the fact that she was losing her independence…her first breath in the morning was a word of thanksgiving. Having gratitude was such a part of her being, she could light up a room, wherever she went. Even in the last few moments of her life, she radiated grace.”
Martinez said it is also important to recognize military families who have lost connections due to PCSing.
“It’s the sacrifice we make to serve our country,” she said. “It takes work and effort to regain those relationships.”
Loss can be a debilitating experience to endure, whether it’s your first holiday without the kids due to custody, the death of a loved one, deployment, or a break-up in a relationship, Garcia said. She said it is too easy to fall into the slump of avoiding and distracting which may make future holidays even more stressful.
“Be honest with yourself about how you’re feeling, reflect back, create new traditions, make plently of plans even if you don’t need all of them, and reach out,” Garcia said. “This is not the time to be alone or without a strong support network.”
It is important to turn to family and friends as a support system during difficult times in your life, according to Martinez. In order to have a stable support system at home, Martinez said you should ask yourself three questions: Who can I count on to listen to me when I really need to talk? Whom can I count on to console me when I’m upset? Whom can I count on to help in a crisis situation?
She said when you reflect on those questions, most people will come up with a list of about three to seven people. Reaching out to those people is the next step. Let the person know you are looking to rely on them during your most difficult days. She said if those individuals agree to formal training, it could help them provide you the guidance you seek during your darkest hour.
“Sometimes when we have lost hope, it will take those closest to us to remain hopeful until we can find it again,” Martinez said.
The Employee Assistance Program Coordinator at WSMR is Lathan Newkirk at (575) 678-2112, he offers services to military, retirees, civilian employees and their family members.
“Our job is to offer training and resources when times get tough,” Martinez said.
ACS also provides a series of courses to help people through difficult situations, including; Master Resiliency Training to teach patrons how to bounce back through adverse experiences, Family Advocacy Program which provides stress and anger management classes to assist in managing the daily and life-changing events; workshops on building healthy relationships and connections with others; Exceptional Family Member Program offers information and assistance for exceptional family members with special needs and how to manage the holidays; Financial Readiness program offers budget planning year round and especially during the holiday season; Army Emergency Relief program can provide financial assistance to Active Duty, Retirees, Widows/Widowers and Survivors and Baby Strong provides a retail shopping experience with items for children from birth to age 5, for free.
“Just remember, no holiday celebration is ever going to be perfect,” Garcia said. “Any missteps are merely opportunities to demonstrate your gratitude, flexibility and resilience, thus creating more memories to share with others.”
Contact Army Community Service at (575)678-6767 or the Army Substance Abuse Program at (575) 678-6571 for information or assistance.