Holiday Blues

Do you know that holiday blues are not abnormal? The financial concerns, the RSVPs to parties and gatherings, the decisions about who will host the family functions, the possibility of entertaining guests is enough to make anyone want to scream. All the while, we are supposed to be celebrating the season by singing “be merry and bright” along with a myriad of other holiday songs that infiltrate our brain at the malls, in the elevators and on the radio. How we handle this stress can be helpful or hurtful. Some people choose to react to their stress with excessive drinking and eating, sleeping longer hours, and decreasing their physical exercise; unfortunately exacerbating the holiday blues. Let’s take a deeper look at what causes the holiday blues and some possible solutions to help you through this season.

What Causes the Holiday Blues?

Fear of disappointing others. Some people fear disappointing their loved ones during the holidays. Even though they can’t afford to spend a lot of money on gifts, some people feel so obligated to come through with a fancy gift that they spend more than they can afford.

Expecting gifts to improve relationships. Giving someone a nice present won’t necessarily strengthen a friendship or romantic relationship. When your gifts don’t produce the reactions you had hoped for, you may feel let down.

Anniversary reactions. If someone important to you passed away or left you during a past holiday season, you may become depressed as the anniversary approaches.

Bad memories. For some families, the holidays are times of chaos and confusion. This is especially true in families where people have substance abuse problems or dysfunctional ways of relating to each other. If this was true in your family in past years, you may always carry memories of the disappointment and upheaval that came with the holidays. Even though things may be better now, it is difficult to forget the times when your holidays were ruined by substance abuse and family dysfunction.

It could be SAD. People who live in northern states may experience depression during the winter because of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). SAD results from fewer hours of sunlight as the
days grow shorter during the winter months.

Strategies for Dealing with the Holiday Blues

While the holiday blues are usually temporary, these ideas can help make this year’s holiday experience more pleasant and less stressful.

Be realistic. Don’t expect the holiday season to solve all past problems. The forced cheerfulness of the holiday season cannot ward off sadness or loneliness.

Drink less alcohol. Even though drinking alcohol gives you a temporary feeling of well-being, it is a depressant and never makes anything better.

Give yourself permission not to feel cheerful. Accept how you are feeling. If you have recently experienced a loss, you can’t expect yourself to put on a happy face. Tell others how you are feeling and what you need.

Have a spending limit and stick to it. Look for holiday activities that are free, such as driving around to look at holiday decorations. Go window-shopping without purchasing anything. Look for ways to show people you care without spending a lot.

Be honest. Express your feelings to those around you in a constructive, honest, and open way. If you need to confront someone with a problem, begin your sentences with “I feel.”

Look for sources of support. Learn about offerings at mental health centers, churches, and synagogues. Many of these have special support groups, workshops, and other activities designed to help people deal with the holiday blues.

Give yourself special care. Schedule times to relax and pamper yourself. Take a warm bath or spend an evening with a good book.

Set limits and priorities. Be realistic about what you will be able to accomplish. Prepare a To-Do list to help you arrange your priorities.

Volunteer your time. If you are troubled because you won’t be seeing your family, volunteer to work at a hospital or food bank. Volunteering can help raise your spirits by turning your focus to people who are less fortunate than you are.

Get some exercise. Exercise has a positive impact on depression because it boosts serotonin levels. Try to get some type of exercise at least twice each week.

After the Holidays

For some people, holiday blues continue into the new year. This is often caused by leftover feelings of disappointment during the holiday season and being physically exhausted. The blues also happen for some people because the start of a new year is a time of reflection, which can produce anxiety.

Is It More than Just the Holiday Blues?

Clinical depression is more than just feeling sad for a few weeks. The symptoms generally include changes in appetite and sleep patterns, having less interest in daily activities, difficulty concentrating, and a general feeling of hopelessness.

Clinical depression requires professional treatment. If you are concerned that a friend or relative may be suffering from more than just holiday blues, you should express your concerns. If the person expresses thoughts of worthlessness or suicide, it is important to seek the help of a qualified mental health professional. We are here to help. Call 614-888-9200 or go online to our website to learn more:

Wishing you a stress-free holiday season and a year of renewed passion for your mental health.

For more information about how to cope with the winter/holiday blues, check out these sites:

Leslie Hansen, MA, LPCC-S, is the Director at Directions Counseling Group specializing in marriage counseling, trauma and adult ADHD.

Validating Your Child

In their legendary book How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk (1999), parenting experts Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish humbly yet humorously admit, “I was a wonderful parent before I had children. I was an expert on why everyone else was having problems with theirs. Then I had three of my own.” How true is this? Can’t you relate? I know that I very much can!

Early in my career, when I was single and childless, I worked at a private school with children who were ages birth through fifth grade. I was eager to learn and to be helpful to my students’ parents, so I read every child development book and parenting book I could get my hands on. After all of this reading, I was bursting with facts, and I thought I “got it.” In a lot of ways, I really did! Head knowledge is important. However, knowing about things such as toilet training tricks, sleep time schedules, and limits and consequences only gets you so far.

Over the years, the more I have grown personally and professionally, the more firmly I believe that the key to good parenting is not about all the tricks and tactics. It’s not about saying or doing the right thing in each situation. Here it is, folks: good parenting starts with a secure, attuned, connected relationship with your children, and one sure way “in” is through effective listening and validation. That’s the foundation. It’s really that simple. The challenge, though, is that this “simple” skill takes conscious effort and patient endurance.

Often, when we speak about validation, our first thoughts go to things like parking tickets at the theater. For these purposes, validation means: communicating to someone – both verbally and nonverbally – that what they think, feel, believe, and experience is real, logical, and understandable. It does not mean you agree or approve, and it is always nonjudgmental. We validate others because it helps our relationships to be better, and it calms intense situations.

There are several “levels” to validation:

Each level has increasingly higher intensity and deepening connection. To clarify, these are not a series of steps to follow in sequential order. Think of these levels as options for increasing the degree of validation your child will experience; you can do one or more at any given time:

  1. Pay attention and listen.

    It can be discouraging to try to get through to someone who is only half listening. If your child is talking to you, that is not the time to be thinking about your grocery list, your upcoming meeting at work, or your weekend plans. Stop what you’re doing, turn toward your child, and maintain eye contact. Pay attention to your nonverbals. Nod or gently prompt with “Oh”… “Mmmm” … “I see…” Focus fully on your child with no judgments, no inner dialogue, and no sneak peeks at your phone! Even if you’ve repeatedly heard your six year-old tell you about Pokemon, stay present in the conversation. Do your best to appear interested. Keep in mind that as you stay open on mundane topics, your children will feel comfortable sharing the tough stuff.

  2. Reflect back.

    This is where you can summarize or paraphrase back to your child what you heard him say to you. Use your child’s own words (change up some of the words so it doesn’t come across as mocking), and be careful not to add any extra interpretation. Be matter-of-fact, and remember that you don’t have to agree with their perceptions. Your goal is to convey that you understand the essence of what your child shared. Show genuine care as you do this, and check that what you’ve said is right. Ask, “Is that right?” or “Did I get it?” Your child will correct you if needed – just roll with it!

  3. Put yourself in their shoes.

    At this step, try to imagine what it’s like to be your child in the exact situation they’ve shared with you. Intuit the (likely unspoken) thoughts and feelings that may be below the surface. Truly try to understand with compassion, and try to “read” them. Articulate any thoughts and feelings that you believe your child may be experiencing, and check for accuracy. For example, “It sounds like maybe you’re feeling…” or “I wonder if you’re wishing…” As before, your child will let you know if you’ve gotten it right. Children who hear the words for what they are experiencing are deeply comforted, as someone has acknowledged their inner experience.

  4. Communicate an understanding of the cause (based on history).

    This is where parents’ knowledge of a child’s history comes in really handy because it allows you to understand the current behavior within the context of your child’s experience. For example, a parent may say, “I can understand that you’re scared of the DARE officer’s dog since the neighbor’s dog nipped you last summer” or “It makes sense to me that you’re nervous to ride the bus today since those kids picked on you yesterday.” Such statements communicate to a child, “I see you, I got you, I KNOW you.”

  5. Acknowledge the valid in the present circumstances.

    Here is where parents normalize what the child is thinking and feeling under the present circumstances. Look for the kernel of truth, and find the parts of your child’s response that seems reasonable. Communicate empathy and understanding above all else. This might sound like, “I think anyone in your shoes would feel that way” or “It’s normal to wish for that right now – it makes sense to me.”

  6. Show equality, authenticity, and genuineness.

    Be spontaneous and natural as you show your child how much you genuinely care about him. Here you are matching your child’s vulnerability, engaging in an authentic manner, and demonstrating your humanness. You might say, “The morning routine has been difficult for us, and I feel sad that we say good-bye on a bad note.” Your child will feel seen, he will see that you’re a real person with genuine feelings, and it will deepen the connection between the two of you.

Going forward

As you’re listening to your children and practicing validating, remember to stay nonjudgmental, engaged, and calm. Even when (especially when!) you hear difficult, upsetting, or scary things, stay emotionally available and connected. Stop yourself from mounting a counter-argument in your mind. It can be especially tempting to interrupt with your own reaction or to prove a point. If you reply with a counter-argument, you will teach your children not to talk to you about “controversial” topics. Instead, try to respond with genuine curiosity. For example, you might be shocked to learn that your child has zero interest in the faith in which you and your partner have raised him. Your reflex may be to yell, scold, and then present him with all the evidence for why he is “wrong.” Consider, perhaps, that this is an ideal opportunity to respond with curiosity as a way to open him up. Go into – not away from – the conversation, and stay engaged with his feelings. Your willingness to dialogue and your attempts to validate kernels of truth on tough subjects will strengthen your relationships with your children. They will view you as approachable, empathetic, and understanding.

You may have noticed that I have not mentioned or encouraged parents to give their children advice, suggestions, or ideas. Please resist the urge to offer these, at least when your child is initially sharing thoughts and feelings with you. No doubt – you have loads of wisdom to share with your children; keep in mind, though, that when they are seeking a validating or listening ear, they are not generally open to what you have to say. Offer your advice and recommendations only after you have listened and validated. Even then, you might say, “I have a suggestion. Would you like to hear it?” In all truth, it is often best to help children problem-solve and come up with their own ideas and solutions, rather than providing them. But that’s a topic for another blog post…

Theresa Black, LISW-S is a mental health professional living in Columbus, Ohio and practicing for nearly twenty years. She works at Directions Counseling Group and specializes in child and adolescent therapy.
Sources and Additional Information:
Faber, A., & Mazlish, E. (1999). How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk. Harper Perennial.
Lozier, C. (2020). DBT Therapeutic Activity Ideas for Kids and Caregivers. Carol Lozier.

What to Expect When You Need an Alcohol or Drug Assessment

If you are required by the court or advised by your attorney to get an alcohol or drug assessment it’s normal to experience anxiety.  A lot of questions can start popping up.  Who do I go to? What is this going to cost me? How do I know they will treat me fairly? Are they going to assume I am an alcoholic? Should I downplay anything that might be a red flag…. or just outright lie to them?  What if they send me to one of those treatment places?

All these questions are understandable. And if you aren’t careful an alcohol and or drug assessment can be the beginning of a new set of problems….but there’s no reason to panic. Within an hour you can get educated on the subject, find a couple professional service providers, ask them some good questions, and get on with the process in a way that helps more than hurts.

The purpose of a professional assessment is to determine if a problem exists and if so, how severe it is, and what level of intervention might be needed.  But how do “professionals” determine these things? We will break it down for you here and add a few other details that you might want to know before picking an alcohol or drug evaluation service.

Standard and Non-Standardized Questionnaires – Most evaluators start by getting basic information from you about your alcohol and/or drug use history. These come in many shapes and sizes but they are all essentially asking questions about how you use alcohol or a drug (recently as well as past history) and what effect that has had on you.   These questions simply give the evaluator a starting point to ask you further questions.  Most of these questionnaires are brief and standardized for use by most professional substance abuse clinicians.  There are many different kinds of questionnaires, with slight differences between them.  Most of them have been researched with thousands of participants so that there can be a relatively accurate and reliable outcome. Some professionals will also have you answer questions that are not related to alcohol or drug use. These questions are aimed at finding out if you are dealing with unusual stress, anxiety, depression, a recent break up, and so on.

Personal Interview with the Professional Evaluator – The evaluator reads the answers to your questionnaire before they speak with you. A trained professional will start with a neutral position and avoid drawing conclusions about your substance use based on an initial reading of your answers. Similarly, they won’t make a judgement based on a single incident like a DUI, or a disorderly conduct charge. They will also let you explain any of your written answers in detail since many standard questionnaires do not allow for explanation.  If you get your evaluation from us it is of utmost importance that you have a chance to explain your written answers, how the legal violation or incident occurred, and any other information you feel is important to get an accurate picture of your substance use. Our questionnaire format also provides space for you to explain some answers in written form.

Once your evaluator has reviewed both the incident and your history they will share with you how your alcohol or drug use falls on a spectrum of use.  Your situation may have been a very unusual incident. It may have been for a brief period of time which was related to a major life event that is now past. For others the incident reflects a slow drift into more and more problematic use of a substance.  There are many points along the continuum of alcohol and drug use – from no-concern to severe-concern and the evaluator’s goal is to be as accurate as possible in the conclusion they draw.

Once the evaluator shares their findings with you verbally they will proceed to write a report that summarizes their professional opinion, if they have any recommendations, and what those recommendations are.  The evaluator will present the report to you and should also give you an opportunity to respond to it.  We encourage all of our customers to read their report very carefully to make sure it matches what was discussed in the interview.  There should be no surprises when you present your report to the court and the only way to avoid surprises is to read the report and ask questions if you have them.  If the evaluator did not explain something clearly enough in your report or you believe they incorporated incorrect information you should simply discuss it and see if the evaluator feels that any changes to the report are appropriate. It is possible to disagree with your evaluator but the last thing you want is to be surprised by his or her report.

People always ask us – how long does this take?  This is completely dependent upon the customer service orientation and efficiency of the service you chose. At we generally provide interviews within 1-4 business days of your assessment purchase. We then provide a finished report within 4-5 days of your interview without any additional fees.  We also offer a variety of rush services with fees that vary according to your timeframe.  Same-day service is often available.

How much should I pay for this?  You have heard the saying, “you get what you pay for”.  This applies to alcohol and drug evaluations as much as it does to any other product or service. Pay little, get little in return.  You can find prices for assessments all over the map; $100 at the local clinic…. $500 at a psychologist’s office, $250 at one online service, $350 at another.  In the end, the cheapest assessment may not really be in your best interest.  The real question is – did you get a fair evaluation, good and timely customer service, a professional report, and ultimately something that is useful to you with regard to your use of alcohol or a drug.

So, how much should you pay? We would encourage you to be skeptical of the low and high-priced assessments. Do your homework to get a sense that you are going to get a good value and practical suggestions if you want them.  In our opinion these things are far more important than saving fifty or a hundred bucks.

Remember, some evaluators actually want to help you  – While there are evaluators with a “one-size-fits-all” approach our philosophy focuses on individuals and recognize that backgrounds, lifestyles, stressors and many other things factor into your use of a substance – whether a one time incident or a patter. We aren’t the only ones with this philosophy, but we do have a company vision. That vision includes helping people find their way through stressful times. We have no interest in putting you into a predetermined category or sending you to our own program.  Our interest is to do our best to get to know you, find out how your use of substances fits into known categories, offer our opinion about how healthy or unhealthy your alcohol or drug use is, and point you toward appropriate resources if they are needed.

So here is a quick summary –  1) Don’t panic; 2) Get educated on the subject; 3) Look for a couple services that provide professional assessments; 4) Ask them a few good questions over the phone; 5) Listen to your gut instinct focusing on quality more than price; 6) Be as truthful as you possibly can with the evaluator about how you drink, smoke or use a drug – don’t evaluate yourself – ask for the evaluators best opinion; 7) Learn from the experience and move forward.

The Significance of Safe Spaces

A therapeutic relationship with a counselor helps you navigate through difficult situations, instill hope in the darkest moments, and empower you to move forward into a new reality. 

            Have you ever had someone ask, “What’s there to be afraid of?”  You may wonder if that person is living in a parallel universe or, worse yet, if you’re losing your mind.  The truth is, we live in a world that creates a lot of fear.  People leave us, our body fails us, our children break our heart, a friend alienates us; these moments impact each of us in different ways.

How you recover from these moments is dependent on a number of circumstances.  Do you have a strong support network in place?  Have you had to overcome other experiences that revealed your strength?  Are you confident in who you are so that the presenting situation does not alter your sense of self?

Safety always aids in the recovery process.  A sense of safety can come from within and be perceived as courage or a confidence that may be born out of resiliency.  It can also be derived from a space.  A space where you can openly discuss your fears; a place that allows you to recover at your own speed; a space where you are free to share the dark thoughts that keep you awake while you move, albeit slowly, toward healing.

In counseling, a safe space incorporates all of the above, as well as a safe person who can take the journey with you to open your mind to new ideas, allowing you to explore new revelations that put you back on solid ground.

Some people feel they can handle the difficult road alone.  This is an option, but for many, it’s not the best option.

“When we are feeling completely relaxed and confident, the mind is open to new ideas, we brainstorm strategies and handle obstacles without needing a sounding board.” explains Leslie Marshall, DCG’s Chief Operating Officer..

She adds, “However, when under duress, the brain is not going to function at its optimal level.  And in the face of ongoing stress or long term suffering, the impact can be detrimental to an individual’s logic, memory and thought processing, potentially causing long-term mental health conditions and making the road to recovery and healing much more complicated.”

The therapeutic relationship with a counselor is designed to help you navigate through the heavy emotions, instill hope in the darkest moments, and empower you to move forward into a new reality.  The listening ear of an empathic counselor should provide comfort and restore the soul. 

Marshall states, “We are here to help you think clearly while you’re feeling overwhelmed and hopeless.  We hope to provide a place where all emotions are welcomed and accepted; where there is no condemnation or judgment.”

Directions Counseling Group opened in 1993 to provide that necessary safe space for those who are weary and heavy burdened.   This private practice has 15 professional counselors and offers treatment for common mental health disorders such as chronic depression and/or anxiety, as well as specialized treatment for trauma and/or abuse survivors or those seeking addiction recovery.  Call 614-888-9200 to learn more.