7 Simple Steps to Help You Take Care of Your Mental Health
During the Holiday Season
By Dr. Joanne Mednick
This time of year can be a challenge for anyone. For those already dealing with issues of Trauma, Stress and Depression, the joy of this Holiday Season can easily turn to a festival of challenges.
As a psychologist who deals with all types of trauma, PTSD and depression all year long, the holidays are a common time for people to experience increased stress and challenges with their mood. In addition, this is a unique time of year when body image issues and eating challenges lurk around every table of holiday goodies and festive meal.
There are also the common issues of family dysfunction and conflict that can leave you much more vulnerable to challenges with mental health issues that you are already dealing with.
But the holidays are indeed coming so the best opportunity for grace and ease for you in getting through what can be a challenging time, is to follow one of the common mnemonics I give to my clients: ‘Be Aware and Prepare’.
It is always helpful to feel in control of any situation so as to help not be overwhelmed by unexpected events. And while there is no way to prepare for anything and everything it is best to anticipate and have a plan. After all, there may be traveling involved. If you are not at home you may find yourself not being in your comfort zone while being around family and new people. Unfamiliar environments and changes in your normal schedule can be tough. And remember, managing difficult relationships is complicated.
How do you navigate the complex family relationships that can manifest during the holidays? How can you best take care of yourself in the face of this unique time of year? I will offer you 7 steps to help you through.
It is important for each of you to practice Self-Care. It isn’t always the first thing on your holiday gift list but it is the best present you can give yourself.
1 – You Have Been Here Before
This is a perfect opportunity to plan ahead by looking backwards. Think about what may have gone wrong during previous holiday seasons. Ask yourself: What was most draining? Difficult? Exhausting? Once you can bring those memories forward you can examine those events to find what factors – both external and internal – played a part in any difficulties or conflicts. Try to recall what may have triggered you in the past. What behaviors, situations or comments may have been triggering for you. Don’t let situations just happen to you and feel pushed by things outside of your control. This will give you an opportunity to get ahead of these challenges. By being aware you can prepare.
2 – What to Expect When You Are Expecting
If you have prepared yourself and have expectations for this coming holiday based on past situations, I advise you not to assume this is what is going to happen. Being prepared doesn’t mean to manifest the worst in any situation. It simply allows you to not be blindsided by being unaware. You may be delighted to find that the stress or conflicts may not appear. Others may not manifest the same behavior of year’s past you might have anticipated. The Holidays are the perfect opportunity to practice internal attitude adjustment. It is important to remember what Benjamin Disraeli advised us. We can hope for the best, but be prepared for the worst.
** Don’t put off mental health treatment because it’s the holiday season.
Learn more about treatment options at Serenity Trauma Healing Center.
3 – A Season of Feelings
While many people are feeling happiness, feeling joy and feeling love that is not the case for everyone. With a large focus on family during this time of year some may feel anger, feel sad or feel alone. It is important that you acknowledge these feelings and try to engage in the healthiest way possible in the expression of them.
You may find this time of year can also manifest feelings of grief and loss. You may find that you are not having the relationships or the experiences that you would like to have. You may be confronted by grief over those who have passed. Allow yourself to experience this grief. You can make a graveside visit or light a candle or other action that may help you mitigate any upset. It is important to be open to connect with these feelings of loss and grief.
4 – Building Boundaries
As Doreen Virtue said: “Boundaries are a part of self-care. They are healthy, normal, and necessary.” Always remember that you have every right feel safe at all times. Both physically and emotionally. You must always remember however that you cannot control how others act but you can control how you react. But be gentle with yourself. You are learning a new set of responses to these challenges.
As you prepare you may want to consider setting boundaries for interactions. If you have friends or relatives that you have identified as ones who have a history with you when in some way you felt abused or hurt it will be crucial to have boundaries.
You are empowered to establish the ground rules: how much time you will spend with them and any topics you are comfortable discussing with them. How much time you spend with them is up to you. Establish what topics you are not comfortable discussing with them and explain that. And if someone is not respecting your boundaries you have the right to separate yourself from that interaction.
5 – An Avenue of Escape.
Many situations you may be entering into can be foreseen to be ones that have the potential for conflict. With family and holiday gatherings the norm, you may find yourself trigged and feel the need to extricate yourself from the situation. It may give you peace of mind to prepare for yourself a plan for your ‘escape’. As a part of setting boundaries, you have the freedom to extract yourself from an interaction and move to another part of a room or a different room or leave a gathering altogether. If there is a potential you may need to drive yourself out of a situation you may want to avoid alcohol or drugs that may impair you and your ability to get out of a situation you do not feel comfortable in.
6 – Avoid the Holiday Rush
It is easy to become overwhelmed as the holiday season can be one of the busiest times of the year. It is important for you to maintain a sense of control and slow things down if you need to. You do not need to attend every event or accept each invitation. You can decline an invitation or at the very least you may want to take some time before you accept any obligation that may feel too burdensome. Give yourself permission to schedule yourself in a way that best takes care of you and not feel pressured by others into obligations that may only add more stress to your holidays.
My advice is to be IN the moment. Slow down. Enjoy time by being present but that will also allow you to check in with yourself to make sure you are feeling comfortable internally. A walk outside, a trip to the restroom, take time step away allow yourself to take some deep breaths. There are many ways to gain your balance if you are feeling pressure build up or you are in a situation you are not comfortable in.
*** You don’t have to struggle alone with mental health this holiday season. Contact our team of treatment professionals to learn more about treatment options.
7 – You Are Not Alone
Knowing that there may be situations ahead in the holiday season that have the potential for added stress make sure you have a network to support you. Discuss your feelings about the upcoming holidays with a loved one or a friend and invite them to help you get through situations if needed. Talk to them about what you might experience during the holidays and how they can help. Establish the ability to call them or text them if the need if you are feeling overwhelmed. You might also plan a schedule of check-ins for support.
For those who do not have that kind of support there are groups you can seek out in your area as well as online forums and Facebook groups to join for support.
And for an added level of safety, in case of a crisis, find and store the numbers in your phone for any hotlines you feel you may need.
Take care of yourself first. That is the gift that keeps on giving!
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