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5 ways to cope with the holiday blues

December can be extra stressful as you juggle working and spending time with your family; here are some tips to help you survive the holiday season


A police officer with a bomb sniffing dog stands next to the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree after the 86th annual Rockefeller Center Christmas tree lighting ceremony, Wednesday, Nov. 28, 2018, in New York.

AP Photo/Mary Altaffer

With jingle bells, twinkly lights and ho-ho-ho everywhere, pictures of the holidays make us think we should wake up every day feeling like a kid on Christmas morning. But this may not be how your holiday feels at all.

Instead of excitement, the holidays may bring you down. When you walk into a store in October and see Christmas decorations, you may feel dread. The commercials begin, and your stress level may start to rise. And instead of bringing joy, Christmas music may bring you to tears.

Expectations are placed so high to feel happiness and joy, and an open heart for friends and strangers alike, that we set ourselves up for disappointment. Real life is still happening, and our daily struggles don’t disappear just because it’s the holiday season. This is especially true for law enforcement, as you experience more “real life” than most people. If you are struggling with life in October, chances are good that those struggles continue in December.

For officers, the holidays bring additional emotions. Will you even get to be with your family on Christmas Day, or will you be working? If you do get to be at home, you’ll probably also be thinking about your work family who are on patrol and not with their loved ones. You may also be missing a fallen officer, or thinking sadly about his or her family celebrating Christmas on their own this year.

With all of this, and with all that you see every day, how can you feel joy and peace?

I encourage you to do just a few simple things:

1. Stop comparing.

If you find yourself comparing your holiday with others, stop and focus on what matters to you, and then let that be enough. Be content with where you are, who you are and what you have. If you are financially stressed, don’t worsen the situation by giving gifts to try to match the actions of others. Instead, give of yourself and work with what you have, but don’t deplete yourself in the process or let comparisons make you feel unworthy.

2. Set realistic expectations.

All the hype around the holidays makes us feel like we should ramp up our energy, our home décor, our financial ability, our time with friends and family, and even our level of happiness. Instead set your expectations in line with the reality of your own little piece of the world. If you aren’t a cook, don’t expect to present your family with a golden holiday turkey and all the fixings. Set realistic expectations about how your own holiday will, and should, look, for your own life.

3. Let go of regret.

Maybe this wasn’t your best year. If there’s something in your life you wish was different, and you still have the ability to change it, start working on doing that. But if you can’t change something, try letting go of the feeling of regret that’s eating away at you. If you need to apologize to someone, do it, genuinely and sincerely. If you need to forgive someone, do it, for your own sense of peace. And then move on. Let go of the regrets so you can start the New Year free of stress and anxiety.

4. Accept your struggles.

Life is hard sometimes, and nobody is getting through it as easily as they may make it seem. Things may be hard for you for many reasons – it is okay to admit that things aren’t great. Accept that all of us struggle at different points in life with different things. Don’t let the season make you focus on the struggles – remember that this season and its challenges will pass.

5. Set New Year goals.

Instead of pressure-filled resolutions, set some goals. But don’t set your expectations so high you’ll never be able to follow through. Name a few simple things you’d like to be different in your life – and then outline a plan to achieve that change.

The holidays can be tough for law enforcement families, leading to stress and even depression. This year do what works for you. If you’re feeling down, depressed, or alone, call 800-273-8255; you’ll find a caring voice at the other end of the line to help you make it through the hard stuff.

The holiday season, just like your life, is what you make it. It’s not what others tell you it should be, and it’s not what your holiday looks like compared to others. Celebrate the holiday for the reasons you choose, in the way that fits you and your life, and make the very best of it that you can with whatever you have to work with.

This article, originally published on Dec. 13, 2018, has been updated.

Amy Morgan, MSC, CFRC(D), TECC-LEO, is the founder and executive training director of Academy Hour, a training provider offering mental health and leadership courses to law enforcement, first response teams and public safety personnel. She is pursuing a Ph.D. in psychology, specializing in trauma and disaster relief, has earned a master’s degree in counseling and holds a bachelor of science in behavioral sciences. She previously served as the training officer for the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation. She is TCCC (Tactical Combat Casualty Care)/LEFR (Law Enforcement First Responder) certified.