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INDIANAPOLIS — The holidays aren’t always the most wonderful time of the year, in fact for many it can be one of the saddest times.

It is of course the season to gather together with family and friends, but for some families – especially those dealing with loss, this time of heightened togetherness makes some feel all the more isolated.

“So many families are having a holiday without a particular loved one or sometimes more than one loved one at the table this year, and it’s been a really rough time for so many in our communities,” Eskenazi Health psychiatrist Dr. Heather Fretwell said. “As we approach the holiday season I think some of the most important parts are worry about expressing love and connection and less about what a perfect or idealized holiday would be.”

Keeping up with the Joneses can be exhausting, especially on the age of social media, you may feel like it’s a never ending competition. But this Thanksgiving, experts urge you to put down the phone and focus on what’s in front of you; likely your family and friends and focus on what’s important.

For many this Thanksgiving will be the first opportunity in months to once again gather around the table as a family – after the pandemic kept so many apart last year. With that reunion can come some uncomfortable dinner conversations, unmet expectations, arguments and even feelings of sadness over the loss of a loved one.

Dr. Fretwell says this Thanksgiving you’d be wise to focus on your own happiness and do what you can to preserve it, even if that means taking breaks. 

“I think it would be helpful if we all just adjusted our expectations. Tried not to get caught up in any of the frenzy that can accompany the holidays and just make meaningful choices… not try to do everything, not try to extend ourselves,” Dr. Fretwell said.

“Try not to… as best you can, argue too much, maybe request a topic change – if that doesn’t happen, absolutely feel free, if you need to, to step aside, go take a break. drive around the block, you know, whatever you might need to do. Because it’s important for us all to choose where we put our energy.”

As the days get shorter and nights grow longer, Dr. Fretwell says feelings of seasonal depression can start to creep in as well, in fact, she says 5% of all Hoosiers living in this latitude suffer from the condition annually. 

Combine those feelings with family struggles and you may have concocted a recipe for disaster this holiday season… but Dr. Fretwell says it’s not too late to make your season as merry and bright as possible… with a little help. 

“A lot of times the holidays, we feel like we have to make ’em perfect. We have to make them better, we have to try to make up… in some fashion, for maybe disappointments or griefs or bereavements over the course of the year – maybe while at the same time we are dealing with grief,” Dr. Fretwell said.

“If you’re somebody that’s feeling sad more often than not and more and more down… and more and more stressed… that we just really want to normalize to reach out. Because we can help and there’s lots of really good supports and treatments for what you’re going through.”

If you feel continued feelings of dread, sadness or overall symptoms of depression, be sure to reach out to your primary care doctor or call a community mental health physician right away.