Holiday stress: An open letter to the Ridgefield community

Ridgefielders' letters to the editor should be emailed to: medical professionals in the town write this letter about ways people in the town can deal with holiday stress, especially during the current COVID-19 pandemic.

Ridgefielders' letters to the editor should be emailed to: medical professionals in the town write this letter about ways people in the town can deal with holiday stress, especially during the current COVID-19 pandemic.

Macklin Reid / Hearst Connecticut Media

Dear Ridgefield Neighbors and Friends:

In normal times, the holidays can be stressful. Now, here we are, moving into the holiday season after living for nine months through a pandemic that has impacted nearly every aspect of our lives. Recently, the American Psychological Association reported that most Americans (78%), including young people (64%), are reporting considerable stress related to coping with Covid-19. Thus, it is quite likely that these holidays will challenge everyone’s mental health.

Ongoing feelings of sadness, anxiety, loss and frustration will be exacerbated by the added loss of cherished traditions, the absence of family, and the loss of loved ones. When the holidays are over and the days flow into winter, with its colder temperatures and limited sunlight, our loneliness, sadness, anxiety and other depressive feelings may intensify. If we are susceptible to emotional distress or mental illness, this is likely to be even more true. Knowing this, and having seen the resilience, creativity and incredible support Ridgefielders have shown one another during this past year, we feel certain we can all pull together and help one another during the uncertain months ahead. Just look at Neighbors Helping Neighbors, the creative programming by The Ridgefield Playhouse, ACT of CT, Lounsbury House, The Prospector, and the Arts Council. We also have had The Grinch, Founders Hall Light-Fight, the Hanukkah drive, scavenger hunts, drive-by birthday parties and all the heartfelt things kids are doing around town for those in need. Ridgefield can and does watch out for one another. So, this is a plea. A plea to keep it up. Keep looking out for one another. Offer a listening ear to those you meet. Ask about their well-being (and truly listen for the answer). And---above all--- extend a compassionate response towards the badly-behaved stranger. After all, we never really know what others are going through and this is the time to extend others the benefit of the doubt.

As we head into this season, please know help and support are available. Mental health providers are seeing patients through telemedicine, helplines are available, and Ridgefield’s physicians, clergy and Ridgefield’s school counselors are trained and ready to help. Here are a few more helpful tips for managing stress this holiday season:

Lower your expectations---of yourself, your loved ones, and this holiday in particular. Know that this season is going to feel different. There is no right way to feel and it is okay if you are not feeling “merry and bright.” Let others be less bright and merry also. Choose the rituals and traditions that bring you pleasure and let go of the rest. As for gifts, remember that the greatest gift of all is your “presence.” Your children will remember most of all the memories you create. Make them positive. Laugh, cuddle, bake cookies, watch sappy holiday movies, take drives to see the Founders Hall “Light-Fight.”

Eat well. Get sufficient sleep. Exercise. Limit the alcohol. Seriously. These things are truly helpful. No one feels great if they are tired, hung-over or fueled with sugar. Eat the rainbow (lots of fruits and vegetables), avoid processed foods, aim for 8-9 hours of sleep, 30-minutes of exercise per day, and limit your alcohol intake.

Find ways to comfort, soothe and relax yourself every day. The internet has abundant suggestions to help you relax: mindfulness, deep breathing, music meditations, yoga stretches are prayer/meditation are just a few ways to relax your body and mind. They are typically simple, free and easy to learn. If and when your young children are feeling upset or anxious, try sitting and blowing bubbles with them---- this is deep breathing in a very fun, relaxed way!

Get outdoors--- every day. Given our social isolation and restricted activities, it can be hugely beneficial to go for a walk---even if for 10 minutes. While walking, “put a pause” on your worries or sadness. Listen to soothing music, watch for the birds, or take photos of beautiful things. With your kids, play “I Spy” or create a scavenger hunt---getting outdoors, off screens, and exercising is good for them too.

Call and/or visit the bereaved. If you know someone who has lost a loved one, call, send a note, or pay a visit. Share a memory of their loved one, ask how they are doing. When grieving, the silence of friends can be acutely painful. Worry less about saying the “wrong” thing than saying nothing at all.

Check in on young adults. This pandemic has upended the emotional, social academic and professional development of young adults. Many of them are feeling incredibly anxious and uncertain about their future. And they may be very much alone---living at home with parents along with limited access to friends has curtailed the development of their identities and autonomy. Remind them that the entire world has had to put jobs/careers/educations on the slow track but there is light at the end of the tunnel. Then, do something fun with them---play cards, video games, watch movies, make homemade pizzas. If you can connect them with other young people in the area, even better.

Do something nice for parents with young children. Between working, helping with remote learning, ensuring their safety, and trying to entertain kids for the long hours brought on by Covid restrictions, parents have been under chronic stress for nine long months. They are apt to feel as if they are failing at a job that, in the best of times, is the hardest job of all. Let them know you appreciate them. If it there is a way to safely do so, give them some time off, bring them dinner, gift them with a house-cleaning. Best of all, let them know you understand their fatigue and frustrations.

Check in on anyone you know who lives alone, has had financial setbacks, or is struggling with mental health issues. The holidays can be excruciatingly difficult for those who live alone, have lost their jobs, or have pre-existing mental illness. Covid restrictions are going to mean that many more people will be alone this season and/or anxious about their financial well-being. Check in on them--- ask them how they are, plan FaceTime chats/movies, walks outdoors. If you know a family has food insecurities, gift them with a grocery card or home-cooked meal. Don’t make them feel more alone. Let them know you care.

Know the signs that someone may feel hopeless and suicidal. Get help.

People who die by suicide often talk about death/dying, being a burden to others or having no solutions for their problems. When they talk about feelings, they often talk (or look) about feeling sad, anxious, hopeless or guilty and ashamed. Noticeable changes in behavior may include, rages, agitation, pacing, isolating from others, eating, sleeping or behaving erratically, giving away possessions, calling others to say good-bye, researching ways to die and/or abusing alcohol or drugs. Be extra vigilant if you know there is access to a firearm, a recent job or relationship loss, a history of suicidality or violence, and/or if the other is between the ages of 15-24 or over 60. If you see these signs in someone you love, get help as soon as possible. Call 1-800—273-TALK.

Bottom line

Get help, sooner rather than later. Here are some resources:


Connecticut Mobile Crisis: 211

Kids in Crisis: a 24-hour hotline for children/parents: 203-661-1911

Suicide Prevention: 1-800-273-8255 or the text helpline: text TALK to 741741

Domestic Violence: call 911 if you are in immediate danger;

Women’s Center for Greater Danbury: 203-731-5206;

National Domestic Violence Helpline 800-799-SAFE-2900 for helpline

National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI): 1-800-950-NAMI

Alcoholics Anonymous:

Food Insecurity

Ridgefield Social Services: email

Mental Health

If possible, seek a referral from someone who knows you well---your physician, school counselor or clergyperson)

Ridgefield Youth Service Bureau; 203-438-6141

Ridgefield Social Services: Healthy Heads and Hearts: contact list for therapists:

Danbury Family and Children’s Aid:

Best wishes to all of Ridgefield.

May you and your loved ones be well,

Carol Mahlstedt, MSW, Psy.D.

Lori Bran, M.Ed. Kristen Abbott, Ph.D.

Elizabeth Engelberg, Psy.D. Patrick McAuliffe, Ph.D.

Martha Evans Morris, LMSW Melanie Puza Pearl, Ph.D.

Tony Phillips, LCSW Brook Pieri, LCSW

Denise Qualey, MSW Karen Walant, Ph.D.

Ridgefield, Dec. 18