Tis the season to be jolly once again. But is it really a ‘season’ to be jolly for all of us? Thinking about the diversity of environments we each experience and taking the example of the previous two or three festive seasons has me questioning as to whether a ‘season’ can be truly jolly. So here is my take on this, It is okay not to have a joyous festive season; just because it is the season does not mean it is your season.
Whereas I am thankful for the many people that are having the best of the season, family celebrations and reunions with long-lost relatives and friends, celebrating the milestones of loved ones, marking our different religious functions and using the season to celebrate and care for self. I am mindful and aware of that other person who, for one reason or another, is drudging through the season. It is okay not to have a fun-filled family festive season. It is okay if you are not looking forward to the festive season for one reason or another. It is especially okay if your struggles with the festive season are related to your mental health. You are not alone!
A study by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) USA found that almost two-thirds (64%) of people with mental illness report that the festive season worsens their mental health conditions. Stress or anxiety associated with holiday activities can contribute to worsening symptoms. Society promotes the idea that the festive season should be a time of cheerfulness, joy, and happiness, and this is causing many to struggle with depression and anxiety as they attempt to live up to the expectations of the season.
The mental health impact of grief and sadness during the festive season is immense, especially with those who have lost a loved one during the year, and those who have lost someone during the festive season experience even more intense emotions. Those that are estranged from their families also feel a heightened sense of loss and loneliness around this season of the year. Whether you feel excited, nervous, anxious, loneliness or stressed (or all of these!) around the festive season, it is important to know that you are not alone.
With more of us feeling the pressure during the festive season, finding ways to look after our mental health is essential. Here are some tips to keep you on top of your mental health during the festive period.
1. Handling and managing family conflict
Just because you are related, it doesn’t mean your family members will all get along. On the contrary, family relations can be a trigger for anxiety and depression during the festive season.
Here are some ideas to help you get through this:
• Set realistic expectations. Understand your situation, plan for the best possible outcome, and manage any resultant emotions and behaviours.
• Put your children first. Consider putting aside ongoing adult conflict in their interest.
• Avoid known triggers. Keep away from problematic topics and or people to the extent possible.
2. Stay away from intoxicants.
Drink in moderation or not at all. Alcohol is not a must-have at the celebration.
3. Strive to maintain a Routine/Healthy lifestyle even during this season.
4. Avoid comparisons/choose to be content.
Unnecessary social comparisons can blind us to what is before us. It’s unhealthy and unhelpful and can cause ungratefulness, anxiety and feelings of being underachieved/failures. You don’t have to have that big car like your neighbour’s son/daughter. We all have different paths in life.
5. Limit your exposure to social media because it is a big trigger yet full of falsehoods.
6. Be kind to self.
Most of us take stock of the ending year of our goals and targets (self-inventory. I urge you to be kind to yourself, as it can be a distressing venture with unfulfilled goals or aspirations. But it is okay; you shall try again.
7. Reflect on the good things
Amidst all the challenges, choose to reflect on the positives. Gratitude is a springboard to happiness. So even when it is difficult to see the positive, look carefully; it is worth it.
8. Managing loneliness
If you are separated by distance, utilize online avenues to stay connected to family. If you are with no family, seek out fulfilling solo and group ventures, accept friends’ invitations, and ask to be invited by friends for the celebrations.
9. Talk to someone
If you’re worried, anxious, lonely, feeling overwhelmed or under pressure due to unmet expectations, don’t be afraid to talk to someone about it. Seek out support from a trusted friend or professional during this season.
10. Look forward, not back
A new year offers you a chance for fresh beginnings; take it a day at a time in hope.
While many are happily and cheerfully anticipating the festive season, it is important to note it is not the case for everyone and every family.
We must be mindful and sensitive to the people around us, their reactions and moods during the festive season. Strive to be kind with your words, non-judgemental in your thinking and generous in your interactions. You just might create a moment of happiness for someone who needs it!