Here’s to a mentally healthy holiday season!
By Cynthia Cunningham
Ready or not, the holiday season is upon us! I know, it seems like we were just relaxing on our summer vacation. Suddenly, we are flooded with holiday commercials, sales, and music. This festive whammy can knock us off our feet if we are not prepared.
Why can’t we move calmly through the shopping, decorating, cooking and socializing? Could it be that we believe we need to have the “perfect” holidays? After all, that’s what all the holiday movies on Lifetime show us! If they can hold it all together and have the ideal holidays, why can’t we?
First of all, forget Lifetime movies!! After all, they have a whole crew who builds those amazing sets to create the ideal family home decorated beautifully for the holidays. Their lovely laid tables with the perfect food is often not real food. And their families, who get along lovingly, are actors reading a script! What does this tell us? It’s NOT real!! So we must stop comparing our lives to these shows!
So here is our reality: Holidays bring stress, anxiety, depression and just a feeling of being overwhelmed with trying to manage it all! It’s the time of year that we are more aware of the people we have lost and when we deal with loneliness. It does not matter your age, we can all be overcome with these feelings.
Secondly, the key to manage your mental health during the holidays is to be mindful of what you are expecting to accomplish. Start with a “To Do” list. Write down everything that you wish to accomplish. Next, break down the items on your “To Do” list and put them on your calendar. This allows you the opportunity to tackle things one day at a time. Seeing things that you need to accomplish on one day is less overwhelming than the whole long list. And you will feel proud each day you are able to mark off a completed item.
Thirdly, allow those around you to help. I know, the kids don’t decorate the tree exactly the way you want it done. Release that control and see how proud they are of what they have created. Or if that doesn’t work for you, sit down with the family and your “To Do” list and see who will agree to take on which task. This shows your family that you are a unit together. And you are teaching younger generations how to handle the holiday chores.
Fourth, to manage those feelings of depression, keep connected. I know this is not always easy. Find ways to volunteer within your community. There are always organizations that can use help. You will be amazed how helping others can chase away those depressed feelings. Or take advantage of the fun activities happening in your community. You could take a class on making ornaments, join a group going caroling or visiting nursing homes during their craft time. If these activities feel too much for you, ask your family and friends to check in on you. There is no shame in admitting that you struggle during the holidays. When you are open about your feelings with them, it gives them permission to be a part of helping you through the rough times.
Fifth, when dealing with a loss, embrace the happy memories. You can create a new tradition to keep the memory of your loved one alive. For example, if they had a cause that was dear to them, find a way the family can help that cause. Again, check in with your family and friends and let them know if you are struggling with the loss and ask for help getting through the holidays.
Lastly, just know that nobody’s holiday is perfect. Just enjoy the companionship that comes during this time of year. These are the memories that you will treasure in the future. Do your best to focus on these relationships because they are the true gifts of the holidays.
Cynthia Cunningham teaches mental health education classes and advocates for better care. She has been married over 30 years to her high school sweetheart and is the proud mother of an amazing daughter.
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