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Valentine's Day is about love, but the day can be painful or distressing to some. Local mental health professions say there are ways to replace negative associations with Valentine's Day — or any day — with positive ones.

LA GRANDE — Valentine's Day can be a day of joy, but local educators said it also can bring heartache.  

Sandra Yeates, a La Grande High School counselor, said Valentine's Day can be hard for students who do not receive gifts, flowers, chocolates, balloons and cards but see that many of their classmates are showered with them. Yeates appreciates how the high school's teachers and staff are sensitive to this, noting the school does not allow Valentine's Day deliveries to students in classrooms. Instead, everyone bringing in Valentine's Day items must drop them off in the main office, which notifies students to pick something up.

The one exception is third period, when small candy grams can be delivered to students, which Yeates finds acceptable because they cannot easily seen.    

Yeates said she previously worked at a high school in Hawaii that allowed all Valentine's Day deliveries to classrooms. Some students ended up carrying cards, candy and flowers around all day from class to class, since they had no place to put them. 

"It was ridiculous," Yeates said.

The school counselor knows what it feels like to feel left out. Yeates said she once worked at a bank where almost all the employees were women. She recalled one Valentine's Day all of the women employees received gifts at the bank but her. She made sure this never happened again.

"After that I always sent flowers to myself (at the bank)," Yeates said.

The counselor encourages people to be as thoughtful as possible on Valentine's Day.   

"It is a time for people to be empathetic to others," she said.   

La Grande Middle School has a protocol similar to that of LHS. The main office keeps all Valentine's Day deliveries for students, who cannot pick them up until the end of the day.

Students know they have something waiting for them because their names are on a sign outside the main office. 

Middle school principal Kyle McKinney said the system works well except at the end of the day when it is apparent as students walk out of the school building some received a bounty of gifts while others are empty-handed and visibly upset.

"I cringe. I don't like to see students hurt," McKinney said.

Still, the system in place does prevent a lot of heartache. McKinney said about a decade ago, students would carry Valentine's Day gifts around all school day. The principal said lunchtime was awkward because some students had a wealth of balloons and flowers while others had nothing.

McKinney prefers when Valentine's Day falls on a Saturday or Sunday, when there is no school. It prevents students from being hurt, he said, and it means there is one less school day in which there is a disrupted learning environment.  

Distress from Valentine's Day extends well beyond school grounds.

"Valentine's Day is notorious for being acutely lonely, a spotlight on the relationships we wish we had, or a day where our shortcomings are glaringly obvious as we botch it yet again," according to Luke Matteucci, founder of La Grande's Life Reformation Counseling. "The holiday intended to celebrate love can often trigger and exacerbate depression and anxiety."

Daisy Thompson, counseling supervisor at the Center for Human Development, La Grande, concurred with Matteucci, saying for some people the holiday can hold negative memories and emotions. Fortunately, there is a fix to the issue.

"We teach people they can assign a different, more positive memory to the day," Thompson said.

She said to remember to take care of yourself if the day is making you anxious or getting you down. Practicing self-care is a great way to help yourself, she said, and if the holiday, or any day, is still too much, CHD has a 24/7 crisis line to help at 541-962-8800 option 6.

Being in a relationship does not necessarily keep you from Valentine's Day blues. A healthy relationship can help, though, according to Thompson.

"There are two key elements to a healthy relationship," she said. "Communication and boundaries, and communication is by far one of the most important elements."

Thompson said another way to help bring positive meaning to the holiday is to celebrate even if you don't necessarily have a significant other. She said during her travels to Bosnia she discovered the day was instead called Friendship Day and meant to celebrate all relationships, not just romantic ones. Even though we don't celebrate Valentine's Day that way, she said, it can help alleviate the pressure to spend the day with a romantic partner.

The strain the holiday can put on someone's wallet can create an additional stressors. The National Retail Federation reported an estimated $27.4 billion will be spent in the U.S. on Valentine's Day, an average of $196.31 per person.

Behind all the stress, however, the holiday is about love, and mental health experts suggest the best way to spend the day is by remembering to love yourself.

General assignment reporter

Beats include the communities of North Powder, Imbler, Island City and Union, education, Union County veterans programs and local history. Dick joined The Observer in 1983, first working as a sports and outdoors reporter.

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