Well. Lo and behold if it isn’t December folks! Thanksgiving is but a mere memory with a couple of extra added pounds and we now start marching double time on to Christmas and the new year. At least that’s how I’m feeling right now!
Anyway, while I was contemplating on what this months blog would be about I originally had been thinking on keeping it lighthearted and putting the heavy subjects on hold for the month. You know, it being “The holidays” and all. But then, I quickly reminded myself that mental health issues do NOT take holiday breaks.
Even when the holidays are looked upon with great anticipation it can still bring about unwanted stress and varying levels of disappointments. With all its bustle and busyness, expectations, family issues, financial pressures, it can be a mentally and emotionally taxing time for almost anyone. However, when you add all of that to underlying mental health issues, those demands can often leave an individual feeling out of sorts and extra vulnerable at this time of year.
Nevertheless, there are many safeguards you can put in place now before you feel your struggles heightening as the holiday season starts to pick up. Let’s look at a few.
SAFEGUARDS TO HELP YOU THROUGH THE HOLIDAYS
1. Be realistic in your expectations. Sometimes looking back at holidays of yesteryear can bring about negative feelings over how things used to be or how you think they “should” be today. Because families change and grow, traditions and rituals of the past often change as well. So, go ahead and hold on to what is attainable now but be open to creating new traditions and experiences as well. They might just end up being the best!
2. Don’t Compare Your Holiday Experiences With Others On Social Media. Social media is rife with images of the perfect family and friend get togethers. But come on now! You have to know those pictures do not show the hurt feelings, sad times, the family arguments, etc., that have taken place over the years. Or, how many tries it took to get everyone looking like they love each other.
If we were to know “the real picture” of the behind the scenes stories taking place, I’m sure we would all be surprised. And you know why? Because NO ONE has the perfect family, the perfect relationships, the perfect holiday season. Nope! Not even the folks who make Hallmark movies. In fact, if your family’s Christmas experiences more closely resemble the Griswolds in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, take heart. You just might be in the majority. Thus, it would be to your advantage if you will look beyond the disappointments and the cousin Eddies in your family and instead focus on the whats and the who’s you can be grateful for thereby helping you to celebrate the holiday season.
3. If Christmas music hurts, pause it. Music is powerful and can evoke complex emotions without any conscious effort on our part. And right now holiday music is everywhere. It can stir up memories of joyful, fun-filled times of Christmases past but can also remind us of sad times such as loved ones lost or relationships that have changed or been broken. Therefore, if endless Christmas tunes jingle your bells then by all means crank that stuff up and make merry. However, if you are susceptible to depression you might want to pause it for a while or at the very least, weed out the holiday songs that make you sad and make your own playlist of the ones that do make you feel good and upbeat.
4. Find something you enjoy doing during the holidays. If you suffer from feelings of loneliness or isolation, make plans to do something special like a trip to see an out-of-town friend or family member. Maybe you could even host a small get together with friends who you know understand mental illness. Go to the theater to see a holiday themed movie, attend a concert, or see a play. Consider volunteering somewhere. Sometimes helping others in need can help you focus less on your own limitations while at the same time helping you to see your hidden strengths and blessings.
5. Take control of the holidays. Don’t let the holidays start to control you. That can lead to feelings such as resentment and dread. Instead, take steps now to prevent the stress, anxiety or depression that can overwhelm you during the holidays. Recognize your holiday triggers such as financial pressures, personal or family demands, etc. before you have the meltdown. Unfortunately, self-care often takes a back seat during this time so make sure you take care of yourself. That means eating sensibly, getting enough sleep, and keeping up routines that make you feel good such as exercise or even a little coffee-time with friends maybe.
All in all, if you can put safe guards such as these in place (or whatever it takes) to guard your mental heath I believe you can make it through to have an amazing and happy holiday season. If however, despite your best efforts, you are still feeling persistently sad, anxious, or depressed it’s a good idea to take some action such as seeking support or talking to a mental health professional.
In the same way you would consider working with a personal trainer to get in good physical shape, you can work with a therapist to improve your mental fitness – afterall, your mental health is just as important as your physical health. Especially during this time of the year. I wish you a Very Merry Christmas and a Happy Holiday Season! Kris