How do you feel about the holidays? Are they a time of joy and togetherness? Or do they trigger negative emotions?
For many, this wonderful time of year instead makes them feel stressed and alone. They spend the last couple months of the year wishing they could enjoy something that is such a normal part of society.
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Stress and loneliness are common feelings in November and December, even for those that have not been diagnosed with a mental health condition.
I wanted to talk about those two feelings in particular and offer some helpful tips, in case you need some extra holiday support.
Do the last couple months of the year make you extra stressed? I have to be honest, that is definitely the case for me.
There are lots of reasons for this. Do any of these reasons apply to you?
There are a few reasons that the holidays can be financially stressful. The pressure to buy is a big one. Especially as parents, we want it to be special for our kids and feel a sense of guilt when we cannot afford it.
There could also be a sense of shame associated with hosting. Maybe you regularly host gatherings, but are embarrassed about your living situation (and are not in a place to change it).
Many people also experience FOMO: Fear Of Missing Out. They hear about all the things that wealthier friends get for their kids, and that jealousy can be stressful.
I definitely feel a lot of social pressure this time of year. I’m an introvert by nature, and all the socializing is super draining.
Don’t get me wrong: it’s great to spend time with loved ones. But I totally get how that can be stressful for people, because I feel that way too.
Sometimes nailing the logistics of the holidays is just as stressful as the holidays themselves. Isn’t it?
After all, there are a ton of details to coordinate:
- Gifts to buy
- How much wrapping paper you need
- Shipping gifts to distant loved ones in time
- Hosting details
- Food to prepare
- Dietary concerns of guests
- Clothes for family pictures
There is a lot to think about, and many people find it stressful. Myself included!
We may not realize it, but there are hidden psychological triggers during the holiday season.
First of all, a recovering alcoholic/addict might face increased pressure to drink.
People with eating disorders might feel self-conscious during meal time.
It’s possible that you might be triggered by contact with a toxic friend or family member.
These are all great things to keep in mind, and are things regarding which a loved one with mental illness might need extra empathy.
How you can beat holiday stress
Here are my top stress busting tips that you can use in the context of holidays & holiday prep. Which one of these resonates most with you?
- Try to stay organized. The earlier you can start your planning, the less stressful it is likely to be. This will give you more time to break your planning down into manageable chunks.
- Say “no.” Don’t want to host? Say “no.” Can’t afford to donate to that organization sitting outside of the grocery store? Don’t feel up to 100 holiday parties? Seriously, it is okay to say “no.” No is a complete sentence. Full stop.
- Try deep breathing. It sounds corny but breathing exercises and meditation really helps. You can keep it simple and just close your eyes, inhale, exhale, and count backwards from 10.
- Make a detailed to-do list. Break your plans into as many bite-sized pieces as possible. Cross things off and reward yourself for making it through a certain amount of items.
- Ask for help. Whether it’s childcare, help with cooking, or transportation, it is perfectly okay to ask for help if you need to. I’m sure your loved ones would be more than willing!
It is also common to feel incredibly sad and alone around Thanksgiving and Christmas (or whatever holidays you take part in.)
Society conditions us to believe that we are required to be happy this time of year. But that is often so hard!
This is so common around the holidays. I feel grief myself at every gathering. I miss my grandma more than words can say.
I’m sure this is something everyone can relate to. Something about this time of year is a stark reminder of what and who we are missing.
One surprising fact about mental illness is the amount of people whose disease alienates them from their family. This is incredibly common.
There is still such a stigma surrounding mental illness and unfortunately, loved ones are not always understanding, and cannot bring themselves to forgive past behavior.
Feeling numb or detached
I totally experience this one too. One symptom of depression is no longer enjoying things that used to make you happy.
Has that ever happened to you? You know you should feel happy, but instead you feel nothing at all? You feel as if these things are happening to someone else, instead of you?
How you can beat holiday loneliness
It is so hard when you feel lonely this time of year. That makes our depression even worse than it already is!
Here are some easy tips you can try to help keep the loneliness at bay:
- Stay connected. Reach out to friends and family that you’re missing. (Only if they are going to be beneficial to your mental health.)
- Go to church/yoga/temple. Whatever your spiritual practice is, do not neglect it during the holiday season.
- Try out a local group therapy organization. Addicts have AA/NA, so there might be something available in your area for those with other mental health conditions.
The positives about the holidays
Despite all the hard things, it is so important to keep this in mind: the holidays can be really amazing.
If you are struggling with that, just know: I hear you. I see you. Your feelings are valid.
That being said, one way you can help to close our emotional wounds is to put on a bandaid of positivity.
Yes, it is just that: a bandaid. It will not fix all the bad things that have happened to you over the years. You emotional skin needs time to close over the wounds. But it can temporarily cover them, and help you to enjoy the holidays again.
It’s a time to reflect
All of us, but especially those that live with mental health issues, need to take regular emotional inventories. We need to sit back and take stock of how we have been doing, and what we can do to improve.
The holidays are a great time for this. I can’t pinpoint why, but I know that I find myself especially introspective in November/December/January.
It’s time with family/friends
Like I said earlier, I can understand having a hard time with all the socializing. It’s tiring. But being with our loved ones is good for the soul because it surrounds us with positive energy.
In ideal situations, our friends and family radiate love, joy, good memories, laughter, and kindness. These are all things we need to help us heal emotionally.
It’s a time of generosity
Giving to others is a great way to better your emotional health. Don’t have a ton of money to donate to a charity? It can feel just as good to volunteer at a local food pantry.
So, be generous this year, and do it genuinely. Doing something kind for someone else is good for you!
It forces normalcy
One thing I hate about my mental illness is that it makes me wish I was like everyone else. I wish I wasn’t so tired. I wish I had more patience.
Just know this is a common thing to feel. That is what is so great about this busy time of year. We have to get up, take a shower, do some cleaning, and be around other people. These basic things help us feel less “different than.”
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Here are some of my favorite ways to destress and stay connected this time of year:
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Enjoy the holidays
Try and enjoy the next couple months. It is hard sometimes, I get it. Never let anyone tell you your feelings aren’t valid, because they are.
But it might make this time easier if you can make it a point to step back, take a deep breath, and let yourself be merry. Remember: I believe in you!
How do you feel about the holidays? Do you feel any stress or tension building? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!
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