Anchorage therapist suggests how to survive the holidays when feeling sad

A dark sky features fireworks exploding
Fireworks explode above a boat in the Wrangell’s Christmas boat parade, December 22nd, 2023. (Rachel Cassandra/Alaska Public Media)

Winter holidays can be a wonderful, celebratory time, but they can also be a stressful, or sad time, especially for people who have recently experienced loss. 

Anchorage therapist Addy Esco spent time in Wrangell supporting local residents after a deadly landslide killed six community members Nov. 20. 

She talked with Alaska Public Media’s Rachel Cassandra about how to navigate holidays while recovering from traumatic or difficult times. She says it’s important to set realistic expectations for the season. 

Addy Esco: Sometimes either we have an idea of what we feel like the holiday should look like or what we even just generally want them to look like, and so we put a lot of pressure on ourselves. And sometimes we need to be really gentle with ourselves and know that that’s just not the way things are going to be right now. And so that might mean scaling back what we do. It might mean saying ‘no’ to a few things. That might mean doing things in a different type of way. For each person, you have to find that balance of honoring those traditions, honoring the memories that you have with a certain person or with family members, and then looking for ways that you’re ready to create some of those new traditions. 

Rachel Cassandra: I can see how trying to keep things similar to what they’ve always done could be either harder or easier than trying to do something different. 

AE: Yep. And you’re right, that’s going to be different for everyone. And please be gentle with yourself. Recognize you’re a person with limits, who is going through something very, very difficult. And this holiday season, it is going to feel different this year. And that is sad, and that’s hard, so let yourself feel those things. It’s okay if you’re sad. It’s okay if you find yourself getting angry about what’s happened. Let yourself grieve. And the way that you’re grieving is going to be probably pretty different [from] your spouse or your sibling or the community. And I think this is where some people can get tripped up: let yourself, when it comes, to also experience that happiness and joy. Sometimes, especially when we’re so close to such a significant loss, we can stop ourselves from being happy in a moment because we feel guilty. I think it’s really important for us to let ourselves feel joy when it comes because we need that. And just know that there’s not one way to grieve. You might be feeling really awesome and then out of nowhere: a sight, a song, a smell is going to hit you like a wave and it’s going to knock you off your feet. You’ve got to take it a moment at a time, a day at a time. And that’s okay.

RC: Is there advice that you have if you’re supporting a child or a young person who has had a rough time or lost someone this year? 

AE: Yeah, for sure. Don’t be afraid to talk about it. Don’t be afraid to talk about that person. Sometimes we shy away from the hard things because we’re afraid of making kids sad. Kids are really great at letting us know when they want to talk and when they don’t. But sometimes kids aren’t going to ask. And so for kids, if adults are skirting around a memory or if they’re skirting around a loved one who passed away that might come across as we are moving on too fast.

RC: And do you have advice for people who may not have happy holiday memories from growing up? 

AE: Yeah, holidays are a super tricky thing because a lot of times the messages we get all around us is that it’s the most wonderful time of the year, right? Well, sometimes it doesn’t feel that way because of the way we grew up. And so looking for opportunities for people to connect with the world around them. Find your people, whether that’s a group of people from work, whether that’s if you’re part of a faith community, if you’re doing some volunteer work- Find people that you can derive some of that support from so that you can intentionally start to build some of those memories yourself.

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Rachel Cassandra covers health and wellness for Alaska Public Media. Reach her at Read more about Rachel here.

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