Discussions with Dr. Cantrell

Dr. Bridget CantrellDr. Cantrell is the author of numerous books on post-traumatic stress, warrior reintegration, and how to provide support to those navigating the reintegration process. These books have been well-received by family members, fellow mental health experts, and, most importantly, the warriors themselves.

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The following article was originally written in December of 2008:

Make it a Happy Holiday

Well, we are fast approaching the holiday season. It is a time to gather together and form strong bonds of love and remembrance that will help us all get through a rather difficult time of year.

For many, the holidays may be a very stressful time of year, particularly since many of you have family members deployed. As a result, things at home may also have changed dramatically due to the loss of, or injury to, a loved one.

I recently lost my father and this will be my first holiday season without him and I have noticed that I am not quite myself. I feel all sorts of emotions and I don't even see them coming. Perhaps with that level in mind I can offer my own insights. For those of you who have lost a loved one, or who are longing for them to be at home with you, my heart truly goes out to you.

The holidays bring about a certain amount of nostalgia, and along with that comes wishing for warm memories of the past. This is where it gets quite difficult to bear. This holiday season, take some time to remember, but also take time to reach out to others to make their season a bit smoother. It is through helping others that we can move beyond some of our own pain and make a difference in the lives of others.

Having your Marine home for the holidays is exciting. However, this may also present some new challenges for them as well as for the family. Here are some practical tips for reducing stress in your household.

  • If your Marine is home with you this year after being deployed do your best not to expect that things will be the same.
  • Give you Marine plenty of space and don't demand that they join in the festivities. The commotion and chatter may create an undue amount of stress for them.
  • Inform your guests and family members not to ask questions, just let things flow naturally without going "to Iraq or Afghanistan". Let your Marine direct the topic.
  • Discuss the plans with your Marine, let them know what the schedule of events consists of, and give them an option to bow out if they feel more comfortable doing so.

  • Fix some of your Marine's favorite dishes, this can certainly be a treat for them.
  • Watch the amount of alcohol that is passed around, nothing is worse than someone who gets tipsy and starts spewing off without even giving it a second thought how your Marine may be affected.
  • It may be up to you to run interference to create a better environment from which to celebrate this holiday season.
  • Flexibility is the key here, what may have traditionally been standard protocol may need to be reevaluated to accommodate and create a smooth landing for your Marine.
  • Get plenty of rest in order to have the energy and resiliency to handle whatever comes your way.
  • Keep it simple, what may be of paramount importance to you, may not have the same significance for your Marine.
  • Don't expect them to run errands for you because bright colors, crowds, and excess stimulation may push many buttons for them.
  • Don't be over alarmed if your Marine sits quietly, watches TV, plays video games, or otherwise isolates him/herself, as this may be a healthy alternative and positive coping mechanism over the holiday season.
  • Bring out the board or card games and just enjoy the togetherness without getting into any heavy conversations.
  • If gift giving is part of your tradition, talk about cutting back and setting a limit on the amount spent.
  • Don't be alarmed if your Marine does not feel comfortable attending your place of worship as in the past, just let it go and look at this as their way of reducing the stress by not being around people.
  • Be sure to set some personal, family and professional goals for this new-year.

Have a blessed holiday season and may we all take this time to remember those who serve our country today and in the past. Let this holiday begin a year filled with compassion, peace and kindness that we extend to all our fellow mankind.

With deep gratitude and respect,

Bridget C. Cantrell, Ph.D.

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