The holidays; coping with sadness and stress

For many Canadians, the holidays are a happy time spent with family, sharing laughs, exchanging gifts and reveling in festive cheer. For those who have been impacted by violence or who live in fear of violence on a daily basis however, the holidays can be especially trying. In many households, the stresses associated with major holidays are blamed for an annual spike in domestic violence – a disturbing trend reported around the world.

According to law enforcement agencies and victim services organizations, finances, family pressures and over-scheduling are among the biggest triggers of domestic violence during the holidays. Increased alcohol consumption also plays a major role.  While alcohol doesn’t cause violence – it is a depressant, it impairs judgment and can cause aggressiveness in people.  “So if you have a lot of people engaging in high-stress times, where there are high expectations for tradition, for family, for things to be a certain way … and then you mix that with alcohol, which is a disinhibitor and a depressant, you have sometimes what can be a very deadly mix,” said Tracy Porteous, executive director of the Ending Violence Association of B.C.

The following strategies may help you get through the holidays:

  • Give yourself permission to feel whatever you are feeling and recognize that it is normal to feel sadness and/or grief throughout the holidays.
  • Don’t hide or ignore your emotions. If you feel sad, it is okay to cry and if you feel angry, you should allow yourself to express it.
  • Do not be afraid to ask for help or support.  It is okay if you need support from others to make it through the season. Try not to feel as though you are a burden. Your friends and family members want to be there for you.
  • You may want to celebrate old traditions or start new ones. For some, old traditions may be too painful to endure. Others may find it important to continue old traditions.  For instance, you may want to hang your loved one’s stocking with the rest of the family stockings.
  • Continue to eat healthy and get plenty of rest.  Staying healthy can lower stress levels and help make the holidays more pleasant.
  • You may want to consider donating a gift or money in order to commemorate a loved one who is missing this holiday season. This is a wonderful way of remembering someone that has been lost and helping others in need at the same time.
  • Families can also commemorate loved ones in other ways. A candle can be lit in the loved one’s memory or family members can gather together to share fond memories and special stories.  Some may even set a place at the table for their loved one.


The Canadian Resource Centre for Victims of Crime offers support, research and education to survivors and stakeholders.

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