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Health & Wellness

How to deal with holiday stress, in a pandemic, according to one Buffalo therapist

Parent Network of Western New York

Thanksgiving may be behind us, but much of a difficult holiday season remains ahead while the COVID-19 pandemic accelerates. Licensed marriage and family and behavioral therapist Joe Clem of Buffalo will discuss how to cope with holiday stress in a free webinar Tuesday.

In a preview phone interview with WBFO, Clem said it’s important for Western New Yorkers to acknowledge all the hardship they’ve endured in 2020 as we move into a season we generally expect to be joyful.

“These two things are coexisting—the excitement of the holidays, which is naturally there and engrained deep in our psyche—and then this current reality of sadness and loss and despair,” Clem said. “Depending on where you are in that continuum, the depth of your despair and challenge is very real.”

Clem’s biggest tip is to try not to suppress or ignore negative emotions that may arise, which, unfortunately, is what humans are “hard wired” to do.

“For me, learning that information depersonalizes the heavy hit that a negative emotion brings to us. Because we feel the sadness of not visiting our loved ones, of not going home, of not seeing our elderly parents,” Clem said, “so we try to do something to avoid the sadness. Learning to accept and work through that momentary feeling of sadness allows us to get to the love on the other side. Because you couldn’t feel the sadness if the love wasn’t present.”

Clem will share strategies for how people of all abilities can reduce stress and “experience more joy and connection” this holiday season in a live webinar hosted by the Parent Network of Western New York on Tuesday, Dec. 1, from 6 to 8 p.m. The event is free to attend but participants must reserve a spot by contacting the Parent Network.

For those who can’t attend, Clem offered a quick-hit of advice for getting through an unusual, if not painful, holiday season.

“The first truth is there’s nothing we can do about it, okay? We can’t stop the pandemic. We can’t stop the holidays. There’s always a natural stress involved, and the old axiom still lives that if you don’t like something and it’s something you can’t change, then you have to change the way you think about it.”

Public health officials continue to urge Western New Yorkers to gather virtually for holiday celebrations with anyone outside of your household, stay home if you feel sick, wear a mask in public and practice social distancing in order to control the spread of the novel coronavirus. As of Nov. 25, COVID-19 had infected more than 31,100 people across the eight counties of Western New York and killed at least 1,020, according to the New York State Department of Health.