It’s time to deck the halls and trim the trees – the holidays are in full swing. Joyful time with family and friends can often be overshadowed by unrealistic expectations and financial concerns that can have a negative impact on our mental health.
This year, add taking care of your mental health to your holiday To Do List.
According to the World Health Organization, mental wellness is defined as “a state of well-being in which the individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community.”
Another definition: Mental wellness includes our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It provides stability in how we think, feel, and act. It enables us to handle stress with good coping skills, relate to others with compassion, and use good judgment in our decision-making.
There is no health without mental health. Paying attention to our state of mind and emotions is just as important as staying physically fit.
Ann Venuto, retired psychiatric nurse practitioner and NAMI Buffalo & Erie County board member, offers suggestions on how to maintain mental wellness during the holidays.
“Focus on the real meaning behind the holidays rather than materialistic expectations,” Venuto said. “If you are feeling overwhelmed, take time out for yourself doing something you enjoy such as listening to music, taking a walk outside, or reading a book.”
1. Set realistic expectations for yourself:
The 2019 Bankrate Holiday Gifting Survey reports more than 6 out of 10 people feel pressure to overspend on either presents, travel, social outings or charitable donations during the holiday season. Family expectations can place a heavy burden on individuals who may struggle to afford gifts or decorations.
If you have a large family, suggest a gift exchange where each person only has to buy one gift. Or purchase the same gift for all or make a charitable donation in the person’s name. At large family dinners, ask everyone to bring a dish and help with clean up.
2. Don’t Rely on Drugs or Alcohol to De-Stress
The Anxiety and Depression Association of America recommends avoiding drugs and alcohol for comfort. There is a 20% overlap between people with anxiety or mood disorders and substance use disorders, and substances can intensify symptoms. Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant and decreases inhibitions, which for some people, may lead to increased episodes of anger and sadness.
With holiday parties and social gatherings, individuals who have a tendency to overindulge can be at increased risk.
3. Practice Mindfulness, a valuable mental wellness tool.
The online MSW program at the University of Southern California created a Mindfulness Toolkit featuring free Mindfulness Resources like guided meditations for beginners.
“While the holidays can be filled with holiday obligations with friends and family, this can be an often overlooked source of stress,” Karl Shallowhorn, chair, Erie County Anti-Stigma Coalition and Education Program Coordinator, Community Health Center of Buffalo, Inc. said. “This is why it’s even more important at this time of year to try to carve out some time for yourself and maintain your self-care practices. Exercise, meditation and even playing with your pet can be a great way to relieve some of the holiday stress you may be experiencing.”
According to Venuto, managing a mental illness can be especially challenging during the holidays. Someone with a mental illness is more sensitive to stressors that increase anxiety or depress mood.
Financial pressures may induce feelings of failure or guilt and family dynamics at holiday gatherings may exacerbate old conflicts.
Individuals with a mental illness may experience stigma if family members are judgmental or intolerant.
“Some family members may respond with denial or shame and blame for their condition,” she said. “Some friends and relatives may mean well but lack sensitivity and say unhelpful things like ‘just snap out of it’ or ‘look on the bright side’. Someone with a serious depression cannot snap out of it and insensitive comments can increase their distress,” she said.
Be kind to yourself, know your triggers and monitor your feelings. Seek professional help if needed or reach out to support groups, attend community events or participate in religious services.
The stigma of mental illness can push that family member into isolation and increase their feelings of mistrust and worthlessness. Venuto suggests accepting family members and friends as they are, even if they don’t live up to all your expectations.
“Be compassionate if others get upset or distressed,” Venuto said.
If a family faces these challenges, NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness), Mental Health Advocates of Western New York (MHA) and other Anti-Stigma Coalition members offer support groups, peer support and other resources on mental illness.
NAMI offers educational meetings and a free 12 week course for families on how to cope better when someone in their family has a mental illness. For more information, call 716-226-6264 or check out the website namibuffalony.org.
Visit the resources page to discover programs and services that promote mental wellness.
Holiday Self-Care Tips:
- Set Realistic expectations
- Don’t rely on drugs or alcohol or drugs
- Practice mindfulness
- Consume high calorie and high fat foods in moderation
- Make time for exercise
- Seek professional help if necessary
“There is no health without mental health. Paying attention to our state of mind and emotions is just as important as staying physically fit.”
Symptoms of major depressive disorder with a Seasonal Pattern (SAD) can become more pronounced as the holidays approach. Manage your symptoms with these tips.
- Stay hydrated. Drink plenty of water and herbal teas, and don’t forget to hydrate your skin with lotions and lip balms. Hydration nourishes the brain and its physical effects can improve your overall mood.
- Find time to exercise. Outdoor activities such as ice skating, hiking or skiing can be fun during the holidays. Any form of exercise will release endorphins, which can lessen the symptoms of depression.
- Spend time with loved ones. Social interaction can help lessen the feelings of loneliness that may come around this time of year.
- Pamper yourself. Taking a bath, having a warm drink or getting a massage can create a sense of calm and happiness, especially during the stress of the holidays.
- Indulge without over consuming. Treating yourself can make you happy, but over-indulging in unhealthy food around the holidays can negatively impact symptoms.