At the Holidays, stress can be relative.

If you have relatives coming over for dinner, it can mean lots of work, lots of worry about that work, and even more worry about relative “A” not getting along with relative “B.”

And that’s before the dinner itself.

“Anticipatory anxiety,” the experts call it.

On the other side of the same coin, if you don’t have any relatives to visit or invite over, that can lead to depression. You’re by yourself at a time which is supposed to festive and family-oriented.

“A lot of grief associated with the Holidays is due to isolation,” says Puja Shah, director of the Bette D. Harris Family and Child Clinic at the Family Institute at Northwestern University.

That feeling, Shah says, is “‘I feel alone. I wish I had a family to celebrate with.'”

And here’s one more potential stressor: you think therapy might help, but you can’t afford it.

Well, there is an answer.

The clinic, with offices in Evanston and in Chicago, provides counseling/therapy at no cost for most potential clients.

Patients do not need any connection with Northwestern.

“We have the capacity to serve them immediately,” Shah says.

Shah notes that the Holidays always see a bump in demand, but since 2020, it’s been worse.

The reason?

You guessed it: COVID-19.

“COVID has impacted individuals behaviorally and emotionally,” Shah says.

According to the World Health Organization, COVID has led to a 25% increase in the prevalence of anxiety and depression.

Since the pandemic hit, the clinic has averaged 1,200 unique visitors per year, which is about in line with that 25% jump.

Clinic therapists are graduate-level university students who are in training.

They are supervised, Shah says, “by highly-trained licensed therapists.”

Therapy, Shah adds, can help people “strike a balance and stay true to their own values,” with a variety of coping skills, such as setting “healthy boundaries” between legitimate and excessive worry.

Anxiety and stress, Shah notes, are worse at different times of the year for children vs adults.

For kids, understandably, it peaks in August and September, which coincides with the beginning of school.

For adults, however, it’s November through January, with Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah and New Year’s, one holiday right after another.

“Generally,” Shah says, those hit hardest by holiday stress “dread the last quarter of the year.”

If that’s you, or someone you know, you can contact the clinic at family-institute. org.

The Evanston clinic location is at 618 Library Place.

Jeff Hirsh joined the Evanston Now reporting team in 2020 after a 40-year award-winning career as a broadcast journalist in Cincinnati, Ohio.

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