Coping with emotional, financial strain at Christmas can be a challenge

Counselor, local charity and pastor offer perspective

By Jill Kruse-Domeyer
Witness Editorial Assistant

DUBUQUE — While Christmas is a season of joy for many people, for others, “the most wonderful time of the year” can actually be an exceedingly difficult one.

Christmas can be hard for a variety of reasons. For some, it is because they are going through a painful time in their life. Maybe they are having marital problems with their spouse, or dealing with infertility issues, or struggling with loneliness. Whatever it is they are already dealing with, Christmas can often times make those situations harder.

“Based on the clients I work with, the holiday season is challenging and emotionally difficult due to the various consequences going on in one’s life,” said Lynne Lutze, clinical director and counselor with Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Dubuque. “Whether it’s physical, emotional, cognitive, behavioral or relational, any added stress has a tendency to increase the dynamics of a person’s emotional wellbeing. The holiday season can be stress inducing on multiple levels.”

Lutze said she encourages her clients who are going through hard times to find a purpose or a hope that keeps them uplifted. Also, she said, “I like to remind them of what they have been through and how their own resiliency has gotten them through the difficult situation or circumstance.”

Christmas can also be very hard for those who are mourning the loss of a family member or close friend. “Grieving the death of a loved one, especially when it’s the first Christmas without him or her can be excruciating,” Lutze said. Christmas, which is usually a time for family gatherings, “can be a triggering reminder of what he or she is missing.”

Lutze said that being able to identify and understand the various phases of grief can help one to cope. She also said that knowing that others have gone through loss and have been able to reinvest themselves in life again should give someone who is grieving some sense of hope.

Individuals who struggle with mental health issues like depression, anxiety or bipolar disorder can also experience worsened symptoms during the holiday season, according to Lutze. “It all depends on where the client is at in their journey of understanding their mental health disease. It also depends on where the client is at in their treatment,” she said. “That is why it is so important for individuals to seek help when they are not feeling well emotionally.”

Anyone who thinks they could benefit from counseling services can contact Catholic Charities at 800-772-2758. The option to pay on a sliding fee scale makes counseling services attainable for anyone who is in need.

For those who know someone that may be struggling for whatever reason over this Christmas season, Lutze encourages them to reach out to him or her. “Let them know you are there and invite them to spend the holiday with you and your family so they are not alone. Humans naturally yearn for companionship; it’s part of our genetic makeup.”

The holiday season can be difficult for other reasons, including those that are financial. For individuals or families already without a lot of financial resources, the added costs of Christmas can cause additional strain and stress.

Metro Catholic Outreach (MCO) is a collaborative project of 11 Catholic parishes in the Cedar Rapids metro area providing a food pantry, community assistance referrals, and financial assistance for housing and utilities to those in need. Kate Leonard-Getty, Metro Catholic Outreach’s executive director, said she sees an increase in the number of individuals who are in need of financial assistance and more people utilizing the food pantry during Christmastime.

“We always have a large need, but see an increase with both at the holiday and summer break,” she said.

Some of the individuals MCO serves, Leonard-Getty said, share with staff that they’re concerned about having enough money for Christmas, especially in order to buy presents for children. This is particularly true among “the working poor and grandparents as parents,” she said. “Many programs have income requirements that do not consider medical bills, day care expenses, high housing costs,” she added. “We see many people who are just above thresholds in need.”

In response to the financial struggles many experience during the holidays, numerous organizations and parishes around the Archdiocese of Dubuque sponsor families in order to help ease parents’ financial burdens and ensure their children have something to open on Christmas morning.

One group of parishes — the Christ Our Hope Cluster, comprised of St. John Nepomucene in Ft. Atkinson, Our Lady of Mt. Carmel in Lawler, Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Little Turkey, Holy Trinity in Protivin, St. Luke in St. Lucas and St. Mary in Waucoma — has sponsored a giving tree project since 2011. Through the giving tree project, 64 families have been helped and gifts given to more than 200 children in those communities and the surrounding area at Christmastime. (Learn more about the Christ Our Hope Cluster’s giving tree project).

Father Aaron Junge, pastor of the Christ Our Hope Cluster, said that to those who are struggling this Christmas season, no matter the reason or the particulars of their circumstances, he wishes to remind them “that Christmas is precisely for them.”

“It can’t be glossed over that God chose to be born in the darkness of a cave to begin saving us,” the priest said. Father Junge added that he hopes that the darkness of the Bethlehem cave serves as an encouragement for those who find themselves in darkness and mourning and loneliness this Christmas season, to look for Christ precisely in the darkness of their own lives.


Photo courtesy CNS.