We’ve heard varied opinions on the issue. Whether you think domestic violence increases over the holidays or not, ARMS does see increased calls after the holidays as well as after catastrophic events. We regularly hear and support the survivors who tell us that holidays and events (such as the Superbowl and other times when people drink more) increase the abuse and poor choices in their households.

Eleven years ago near the holiday time, Portland was blanketed in snow over one day’s time. Some reported 30 inches. The Portland area does not own the number of snow plows that many States do-we don’t usually need them. Many Portlanders and those in outlying areas were housebound for several days. But as soon as people were able to get back to school and work, the calls poured in. For many Portlanders, the snow-bound conditions meant scary times at home-and we don’t mean just trying to get to the grocery store.

ARMS also sees an increase after the holidays, soon to be upon us. What causes the additional angst over the holidays?

INCREASED STRESS– Whether it is financial stress, hosting, shopping or getting everything accomplished with children in tow, the increased stress at holidays is a fact. When stressed, although wrong, people sometimes take it out on other people. We know children who don’t enjoy the holidays very much. Dad is home more and tends to stomp around and Mom is so frazzled that they seldom get to do anything enjoyable. Some kids prefer to be back in school where they feel safer. According to a survey drugabuse.com ran of 2,000 people, the majority of Americans are either overwhelmingly or moderately stressed during the holidays.

STRAINED FAMILY RELATIONS– Family relationships are often tested more around the holiday. Perhaps you have to deal with that brother you’ve never gotten along with, that weirdo aunt who won’t stop pinching cheeks or those in-laws who just really jump on your nerves. The rest of the year, you can brush it off, but not so much with a scheduled holiday together. Grief plays a role too. During the holidays, we tend to also grieve for those who have left us. Holidays are harder when we miss someone else.

INCREASED ACTIVITY– The holidays can be a very busy time of year. Full-time working parents (and many single parents) must now find the time to menu plan, shop, take the kids to activities, take in the local community play, fill out Christmas cards, go to church and feed the homeless a turkey dinner. That doesn’t take into account the usual school activities and parent/teacher conferences. Is it any wonder some parents feel like hiding under the covers until January? Even grandparents are often called into more babysitting and helping during the holidays.

WORK STRESS– Oftentimes, the career also takes priority over time at home. We need our jobs and for anyone dealing with business, there may be year-end duties at play. Sometimes we work for organizations that are not as flexible in giving family time and it is an extra stressor to have to do whatever it takes to prove yourself/keep your job. Others in the workplace also bring in the stress from their family relationships and additional duties at home, creating a tense environment.

MORE ALCOHOL/DRUG USE- Use of substances usually increases over holidays. “The emotional strains of the holidays and winter weather take a grave toll – during the holiday months of December and January, the CDC reports that alcohol-and-drug-induced deaths spike…” (drugabuse.com) Although using substances does not create abuse, it does lower our inhibitions. And if there is a belief underneath allowing entitlement, or a belief that controlling someone else is okay, use of substances may encourage bad choices.

MENTAL HEALTH– Many struggle with mental health conditions such as anxiety, depression and Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). For some people, the holidays bring joy. “…for others, this time can bring on or worsen stress, anxiety and depression.” (NAMI.com) Coupled with grief or PTSD, it can become even worse. Some may choose to self-medicate with substances to get through the stressful time. Others might choose to lash out and become emotionally abusive.

There is never an excuse for abuse and bad choices, no matter how stressed one is. Abuse is still a choice. We are all still responsible for our decisions, attitudes and actions. If you know that your stress increases over the holidays and it negatively affects the people around you, take some steps today to reduce the stress and make wise choices over the holidays and beyond.

Here are some recommendations-

  1. Reconnect with God. As tough as it is to make time sometimes, it is important to spend even MORE time with Him when stress is present and we are struggling. God says to put on a garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness (Isaiah 61:3). The song, “Even Louder” has a key phrase: the bigger my depression hits, the louder my praise gets. Keep an eye on the eternal-our lives here, and the “very important” holiday seasons, are truly just temporary.
  2. Make it a priority to connect with others. Many of us choose to isolate ourselves when feeling stressed. This is actually one of the worst things that you can do. How many of us get together with others, even though we didn’t feel like it, laugh the evening away and realize afterwards that our stress levels have greatly decreased? Admit it-it’s happened to you, too. Don’t forget to share with your spouse or signifigant other that you are struggling, if it is safe to do so.
  3. Change the schedule. It is okay to not decorate the house fully this year, or to have only one evening a week with something scheduled instead of three. It is even okay to schedule a day at home. People will understand if you say you need to NOT host this year or that you need to reduce the traditional activities. Even if they are briefly bewildered, your wellness is more important. They likely won’t even remember in a few years that you made changes. Is the issue not enough time in a day? Perhaps you could arrange some time off work during the holidays or arrange for some additional childcare so you have time to get things done.
  4. Talk to someone. Ever see a counselor? It is not a bad thing. You don’t need to be embarrassed or ashamed because you need a listening ear. Counselors are are an unbiased party who might help you navigate, unload and choose priorities. If not a counselor, consider a trusted advisor, such as a pastor or a leader in your church. People care. Sometimes you just have to reach out and ask.
  5. Live life abundantly. If you are in an abusive situation, you are not alone and it is not your fault. It has never been your fault, no matter what you’ve heard. It is also not God’s will for you to be abused. There is a beautiful life after healing from abuse and amazing joy in breaking the cycle of abuse in your family. You can do it. Give ARMS a call at 503-846-9284 or 866-262-9284 or email us for support and help.