Friday, December 23, 2016

December Focus: Holidays & Mental Health

For many people, the holiday season can be a difficult time to maintain and care for their mental health. There's often financial, family and travel stress, not to mention the stress that can result from disruptions in routine. People are often busier during the holiday stress and their feelings of love, happiness and joy are often counterbalanced by stress and fatigue. This year's holiday season may be particularly stressful, since voters from all political parties report higher levels of stress and anxiety during the recent election.

So, what can we all do to take care of ourselves this holiday season? Here are some simple suggestions that will help you ensure you have the best holiday season you can. By taking care of your mental health in December, you can also set yourself up to have a better January and beginning to 2017.
Tips for Mental Wellness during the Holidays:

1. Examine your expectations and make adjustments so they are more realistic.
Thinking of cooking for 12 people? Trying to stuff stockings for your kids and all the cousins? Offering your house as the hub for all out-of-town relatives? Planning to spend more than you can afford? Take a second to look at your expectations for this holiday. Often, without even realizing it, many of us have ideas about what we should do this holiday. We often set up equations in our minds where "an enjoyable holiday = some form of backbreaking work." Ask yourself, "Do I honestly want to do these things?" Another good question to ask is, "Do I feel relieved when I think about not doing this thing?" If the answer to either or both of these is yes, then figure out where you can cut back on your task and can rework your's and others' expectations.

CPMH's Anti-Stigma Initiative collaborator, Dawn K. Dreyer, has another good suggestion on how to think about holiday expectations, which she discusses in her blog post, "How to Have a Good Enough Family Gathering."

In short, adjusting expectations can make the whole family happier!

2. Remember the gray areas.
Life isn't black and white. Remember that most (if not all!) situations require compromise. When re-examining your expectations, you don't need to go from "doing everything" to "doing nothing." If, for example, you were planning to host both your sister's and your brother's families, could you instead only host one? Or, failing that, could you go stay at a hotel and take space you need? Or, failing that, can you go on a walk every morning with someone who relaxes you? This last suggestion brings us to the third tip....

3. Put your needs first. 
What do you need this holiday season? Alone time? Help in the kitchen? Someone else to wrap presents? Exercise? Help talking to a difficult family member? Be honest with yourself about what you need and then be vulnerable. Ask for help. Tell the ones you love and trust what you need and ask for their help. Maybe your partner can pay attention to times when you're cornered by your combative aunt and can come over to join the conversation. Maybe your nephew can babysit the toddler or your mother can finish the decorations. Whatever you need, first and foremost, give yourself permission to have those things and then stand your ground. Those who love you will respond positively to reasonable requests that you need to care for your mental health. You can even explain that by doing "blank" (for example, by going on a walk each day), you'll then have more energy during family time, which is better for everyone!

4. Think of small things you can do now that will help after the holiday. 
Many people consider the holidays to be a break from every routine. But often, counterintuitively, a complete break often isn't good for our mental health. For example, instead of taking a whole four days off from getting exercise, how about exercising at least one of those days? Even that one day of exercise (which can be as simple as a walk!) will ease the transition back into your normal exercise routine. Or perhaps you have a lingering anxiety about not checking work email for a week, knowing that you'll be inundated with messages, making your first day back exhausting. How about taking 15 min every other day to check in on your work email? By doing actions with intention, you can help separate your everyday routines from holiday celebrating, without ignoring them completely.

Mental health is always important! Pay attention to cultural messages that equate "ignoring mental health" with "holiday celebrating." Every day is a good day to prioritize your own mental wellness! And by doing this for yourself, you may also inspire your loved ones to do the same!

We want to hear from you! Please comment below and tell us:

How are you taking care of your mental health this holiday season?
Do the above suggestions resonate with you?
What are the most challenging aspects of the holidays?
What are the most enjoyable aspects of the holidays?
What do you most need this holiday season to stay mentally happy?

Carolina Partners in Mental Health wishes you a happy and healthy holiday season! 

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