The school counselors in the Sisters School District have continued focusing on the social/emotional well-being of students during the pandemic as well as in response to the loss of three local teenagers earlier this year in accidents.

The holiday season, while designed to be a time of joy and togetherness, can be particularly challenging during times of unusual stress, such as a global pandemic or following the loss of loved ones.

Sisters Middle School counselor Brook Jackson shared an article compiled by staff at the Mayo Clinic with parents in a recent school newsletter in response to these issues. The article appeared on the clinic’s website at www.mayoclinic.org.

Under normal conditions the holidays can still include what the article termed the “unwanted guests” of stress and depression in people trying to juggle the demands of dealing with things like shopping, meal preparation, decorating and entertaining, but under the added challenge of grappling with a seemingly never-ending and dangerous pandemic, the strain on well-being might be higher for everyone than ever. Add to that a layer of grief, and self-care can become more essential than ever.

Some of the highlights of the article stood out.

One bullet point recommended acknowledging your feelings honestly as you move through the holidays, especially if you are already experiencing grief or feel at a loss because you know that you won’t be able to gather with the people most important to you due to pandemic restrictions. It’s perfectly normal to be feeling sadness and grief, especially under the current circumstances.

A healthy reaction to these emotions is to reach out to others and let them know how you are doing. Additionally, seeking out resources, even online, can be of help, including grief or depression support groups, religious organizations, or other mental health outlets including organizations such as Oregon-based Lines for Life (www.linesforlife.org) which offers what they call the “Safe and Strong Helpline.”

On the flip side, if you seem to be doing okay, reach out to someone who you are concerned about. A quick text, phone call or video chat can mean the world to someone who is feeling down.

Of course, when feeling down it’s easy to fall into bad habits, so the article underlines the importance of keeping basic healthy routines of eating well, being active, and sleeping, but also includes a reminder to not overindulge with social media, particularly regarding current news and politics, and to find quiet time for such things as prayer, yoga, and meditation.

Making attainable, low-stress plans can help keep a balance as well. We all feel best when we accomplish things, so rather than everything having to be perfect or like it was in the past, it is recommended to keep holiday plans manageable, even if it means not keeping all the traditions for the time being.

Gift buying can be very stressful for a number of reasons, including going over budget or just from the hectic nature of holiday shopping. Since most humans feel good about keeping within a budget (less stress) and doing things for others, some recommendations included that, rather than emptying the bank account on gifts for too many people, hone things down to a simple gift exchange within your immediate family, focus on making something homemade, or decide to do volunteer work in honor of someone to whom you would normally give a gift.

One of the most important suggestions in the article included the message of giving yourself a break by occasionally “taking a breather” in ways such as going outside to look at the stars, listening to music, or curling up with a good book. Additionally, giving yourself permission to set boundaries for yourself by saying “no” to requests from others. If you are grappling with loss, grief and/or trauma, your friends and family will understand if you don’t take them up on every invitation. It’s good to let them know how you are feeling.

It can be hard to pace yourself through the holiday season in a normal year, but given the challenges of 2020 for much of the Sisters community Jackson wants to give parents and students as much support as possible.

“We at the schools want to do all we can for our kids and their families,” Jackson said.