Managing the Holidays after a Natural Disaster

Holidays can be hard, don’t be afraid to reach out for help.

Managing the Holidays

Each day of our lives is filled with many rituals: reading the paper while drinking a cup of coffee, feeding the dog, watching the evening news.

These simple rituals give our lives structure, familiarity, and comfort. Special occasions, like birthdays and holidays, also give direction, meaning and connection to others in our lives. Many come to rely on these personal holiday traditions and look forward to them from year to year.

However, when life is disrupted by a crisis, special occasions and holiday rituals are profoundly altered. For those who have experienced losses associated with a disaster, holiday seasons can be a painful reminder of the losses and the hole that has been left. Getting through the holidays the first time can feel like walking into the wilderness: learning new survival skills that offer safety and comfort in unknown territory.

Remember that the losses associated with a traumatic event can impact you physically, mentally, emotionally, socially and spiritually, so be realistic with your expectations and allow yourself to choose those activities that are the most meaningful to you. Family members and friends may wish to honour the holiday season differently than you. Plan to do what is most reasonable and most comfortable for you and your family.

Acknowledge that this holiday will be different. Planning for it is better than taking a “wait and see” approach.

A Few Suggestions:

  • Let others know what you want or need from them during the holidays. It’s okay to set some personal and family boundaries. For example, decide when, where and for how long you’d like to attend a function.
  • Remember that it is normal to have less motivation and low energy The challenge is to balance sociability with solitude.
  • Spend time with people whose company you enjoy and bow out if you need to. Send last minute regrets if the celebrations prove too much.
  • Prepare responses ahead of time to questions about how you are doing.
  • Decide what traditions will stay the same and what will change.
  • Take time for your own self-care and time to grieve. Grief is not a sign of weakness.
  • You may have to change your emphasis on de corations, preparations, and gift giving.
  • Plan your shopping in advance. Try to consolidate the stores you want to visit or ask friends to help you out.
  • Give yourself permission to have some fun during the This does not mean that you place any less value on your traumatic experience and grief.
  • Break down your goals into small, manageable pieces that you can accomplish at one time. Don’t take on too much.
  • Possibly attend a religious service with family, friends or those who also experienced the fire.
  • Recognize that various elements of the holidays can cause a surge of grief and pain no matter what you do. These surges can evoke powerful emotions of anger, guilt, depression and anxiety or panic. These are normal responses to an abnormal traumatic experience.

Don’t Be Afraid To Reach Out For Help

Special occasions and holidays can give those recovering from a disaster a sense of how they are doing. If your intuition suggests that you are not doing as well as you think or feel, give yourself permission to reach out and access a helping professional in your community. Please see the back of this brochure for information on supports and resources.

Fort McMurray Mental Health and Wellness Resources:

Health Link:

Provides advice for health concerns from a registered nurse and information on available mental health and wellness resources.

24/7, Call: 811

Mental Health Help Line:

Provides crisis intervention, information about mental health programs and services and referrals to other agencies if needed.

24/7, Call: 877-303-2642

Walk-in Counselling Services

10217 Queen Street

Monday to Friday: 9 a.m. to 9:15 p.m. No appointment required

For more information call: 780-743-7187

Mental Health Services

3rd floor, Northern Lights Regional Health Centre, 7 Hospital Street

Monday to Friday: 8 a.m. to 4:15 p.m. For more information or to book an appointment: 780-791-6194