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Monarch expert shares ways to manage holiday stress and grief

Ben Millsap
Monarch’s Vice President of Clinical Services Ben Millsap, MSW, LCSW, LCAS, CCS

With Christmas right around the corner, the holiday season is a happy and exciting time for many. But for those who have suffered the loss of a loved one, experience family conflict, job loss or financial stress, this time of year can be less than jolly.

Feelings of stress can easily be exacerbated by a variety of situations that arise during Christmas. There are holiday parties to host or attend, decorations to put up, shopping lists to be crossed off and visits with family members–all of which have to be squeezed into a short amount of time.

While experts say stress and grief are normal reactions during the season, learning to cope can help people manage their feelings and help them to enjoy the holidays. Monarch’s Vice President of Clinical Services Ben Millsap, MSW, LCSW, LCAS, CCS, provided the following general tips and suggestions to help reduce stress during this festive season – and all year long:

  • Get some rest. Regardless of the excitement, guests and travel, make an effort to get plenty of rest. Lack of sleep can quickly increase stress levels.
  • Keep a healthy perspective. Guests will leave, messes will be cleaned and, generally, heightened feelings and emotions during the holidays will pass.
  • Normalcy as you know it will eventually return.
  • Laugh. When stressed in general, and especially during the holidays, remember to smile or laugh. Either can help to reduce stress. Engage in activities that brighten your mood.
  • Don’t sweat the small stuff! It’s a cliché, but meaningful. Focus on the big picture and the little things don’t seem to pile up so fast.
  • Give back. If the holidays are a difficult time, helping others can improve feelings and mood. There are many opportunities this time of year to support someone else in need. It may just help you feel better, too.
  • Start new traditions. If a routine has been altered due to a significant change – positive or negative – start a new custom that can help bring new meaning.
  • Find time for yourself. Carve out some “me” time! Take 10 minutes to think, breathe, listen to music, take a walk, etc. Time for yourself can help you center yourself and feel better.

Millsap said, in addition to the above suggestions, families should not be afraid to celebrate memories of lost loved ones during the holidays.

“Take time to remember the good times. Others may want to share a special thought or two about a lost family member or friend,” Millsap explained. “Listen and, if comfortable, join the conversation.”
Established in 1958, Monarch is a not-for-profit organization that provides support statewide to thousands of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, mental illness and substance abuse challenges. The agency is nationally accredited by TheCouncil on Quality and Leadership (CQL) and certified by The N.C. Department of Health and Human Services as a Critical Access Behavioral Health Agency (CABHA). Monarch operates The Arc of Stanly County, which is a chapter of The Arc of North Carolina and TheArc of the United States. To learn more about how Monarch provides support, please call (866) 272-7826 or visit

Submitted by: Natasha A. Suber, Monarch NC