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Manatee Women's Resource Center offers way to beat holiday blues

The holidays are coming.

They bring with them happy memories, but also some that are not so pleasant.

The Women's Resource Center of Manatee, commonly known as the WRC, is offering a solution to combat the unwanted anxiety that often hits people at Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Louise Sutherland-Hoyt, a licensed mental health counselor in Bradenton who provides pro bono services to women looking for counseling and therapy, is offering a three-week class called, "Side-stepping Holiday Stress."

The class has a suggested $2 donation and will run 6-7:30 p.m. every Tuesday beginning Oct. 28 and continuing Nov. 11 and Nov. 18 at WRC, 1926 Manatee Ave. W. Sign up is on the center's website, wrcmanatee.org.

"Louise is fairly new to our community, but I think she's a great fit," said Ashley Brown, executive director of the Women's Resource Center of Manatee. "She's got many years experience as a counselor and I think she will be giving people some tools and coping mechanisms.

"The holidays in particular are a time when we all get a little stressed out," Brown added. "We want to make everyone happy, make everything perfect, create the Norman Rockwell holiday scene. What really matters is connecting with friends and family and it doesn't have to be perfect to be great."

Sutherland-Hoyt is an eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapist, a technique which helps clients reprocess disturbing memories so they are not so bothersome.

"One of my favorite quotes is, 'Nothing changes more consistently than the past,' " Sutherland-

Hoyt said. "In essence, we can revisit our memories and re-frame them so they no longer bring us stress."

Sutherland-Hoyt said people tend to carry expectations into the holiday. They worry about being the perfect cook, finding the perfect gift, saying to right words to family members.

Her class is going to work on all these things.

"You must pace yourself, develop an awareness of things happening inside you and slow down, discuss realistic family relations with yourself and, especially, be OK with not being the perfect cook," Sutherland-Hoyt said.

Mindfulness skills can offset the effects of these situations and, perhaps, roll us in to January with a sense of pride in how we were able to handle the stressors of "The Holidays," Sutherland-Hoyt said.

"With a little preparation you can learn to be alert to personal vulnerabilities that could drive you to spend more money than you would like, say things you would regret, or drink and eat to excess," the counselor said.

In her class, Sutherland-Hoyt will work with participants to explain that it's perfectly OK to be a bit freaked out by the holidays because often things don't work out.

Life isn't a Hollywood movie script.

Learn by example

Her own life is a perfect example.

Although she has wonderful memories of whipping up holiday meals with her mother, Marian, her dad, Dale, her grandfather, Bill, and his wife, Virginia, who everyone simply called "Gramma," Sutherland-Hoyt also remembers it wasn't all gingerbread back in Bishop, Ca., a small town in the eastern Sierras.

"My parents were heavy drinkers," Sutherland-Hoyt said.

"There was some yelling. I developed a drinking problem. Inside of me, I was struggling with feelings of disappointing people. It seems we are supposed to be happy, but during the holidays often family come to the center and we are surrounded by dysfunction."

Because it is the holidays, and it is the time that family gets together, many people are open to sucked into the vortex of over-talk, over-eat, over-drink, over-attend, over-estimate, over-expect and overwhelmed, Southerland-Hoyt said.

"It is mid-January," Louise Sutherland-Hoyt said. "That New Year's resolution went down in flames five days into it. And then, depression knocks on the door and enters with an insidious presence. Anxiety becomes a co-conspirator. Sleep has left the room. Comfort is now a stranger. How to pay the bills and how to maybe take back those words you said without thinking?" she said.

"Worries and agonizing of how to repair whatever damage that was created in the heat of unmet expectations are full-time residents in our heads. They do not respond to efforts at eviction. If this scenario does not fit your experience of 'The Holidays,' well done. You are adept at setting and keeping boundaries, your expectations of yourself and others are realistic, and you are OK that others might not appreciate your efforts. What a great achievement," she said.

Sutherland-Hoyt's regular job is at Benchmark Counseling, Consulting, Education, 6400 Manatee Avenue West Suite B., Bradenton. Phone: 775-225-5910 Email: lsutherland.benchmark@gmail.com

Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7072 or contact him via Twitter@RichardDymond.

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