Holidays and mental health

Take Care of Your Mental Health This Holiday Season

By Katelyn Millinor, LPC, Manager of Behavioral Health Quality

Every holiday season brings different emotions with it. Whether you enjoy every moment and micro-plan activities, are stressed and overwhelmed by everything, or are isolated away from family or friends, this time of year bring a lot with it. It’s important to consider the impact of the holidays and your mental health.

That was before living through the COVID-19 pandemic currently impacting our daily lives.

The 2020 holiday season will be different – and it should for the safety of ourselves, loved ones, and our community – and we should expect some mental and emotional strains as we work together to get past COVID-19. Learn how to navigate this season, how to be proactive, when to ask for help, and more so you have a happy and healthy holiday season.

First Things First – This Is Hard

As we turn the calendar to December, remember we have been living through COVID-19, physical distancing, isolation, and uncertainties for more than nine months! It has been exhausting and the stress, anxiety, and loneliness is still affecting our everyday lives. Now that the holiday season is here, you or a loved one may be experiencing their “First” major cancelled or changed event.

The first birthday, celebration, or holiday we can’t celebrate together is really hard. Try to realize we are all experiencing this together and feeling the emotions because that can help you cope.

We were never taught how to live through a pandemic and we are learning as we go. Let yourself be disappointed, and let others be disappointed as well because everyone is having to experience this individually.

The Highs and Lows of Holidays

People face a lot of emotions during the holidays. This can be from not having family, having lost loved ones, living far away, or feeling overwhelmed by all the expectations and demands of the season. We should expect these feelings in ourselves and others.

Don’t avoid these feelings, recognize them. We can also expect these feelings to come in waves. The first wave will probably be the biggest, emotionally, and then it can become more manageable from there.

The important thing is to know yourself and expect some ups and downs, probably even more in 2020 than before with holidays and mental health combined. But the second most important thing to remember is that it’s best to embrace the feelings, the ups and downs, and work through them rather than trying to stop these feelings altogether.

Take Action

Knowing yourself is key to the entire process of mental and emotional health during the holidays and throughout the year. Try to understand your triggers – something that can make you feel sad, angry, overwhelmed – and be prepared.

The next step is to have coping skills, or actions you take to deal with the highs and lows. These skills will be a big part of working through things as they happen, even more so to help with holidays and mental health. Some coping skills can include:

  • Talking to someone
  • Making a list
  • Doing deep breathing exercises
  • Going for a walk
  • Or something else that works for you

Another way to be proactive is to notice changes in other people and in yourself. Some of the most common changes can be withdrawing from activities, isolating, not contacting people, sadness, and not enjoying hobbies. These can be red flags during the holidays and mental health concerns.

It’s OK to Feel Lonely

It can be very uncomfortable to feel lonely, but it is okay to feel lonely. It is a very normal emotion, even more so when we have expectations of something different. Whether you are truly alone this year, more alone than you want to be because of COVID distancing, or something else is causing the feelings of loneliness, it is okay.

Dealing with this can happen in a few ways.

  1. Throw out the idea of “should”. For example, don’t continually think or say “I should be able to be with my family” or “I should be going on a trip”. It’s fine, and even good, to mourn a lost holiday or celebration with people you care about, but then take those options out. Think about what you can do and focus on that this year.
  2. Change your expectations. This is a good rule any year, but especially this holiday season. We set high expectations of ourselves and of the holidays, which can lead to disappointment. Rethink or lower your expectations to something more realistic.
  3. Use this opportunity to help others who may also be facing loneliness like a neighbor, an elderly friend or family member who has been isolated for months, or one of your kid’s friends who has family that is working during the holidays. Keep safe distancing practices in place, but find ways to show people you care, that they aren’t alone, and make new memories. You will be surprised how much good it does for that person, and for you!

Loneliness is a big factor on holidays and mental health of people everywhere. Efforts in this area can make a big difference.

Know When to Ask for Help

We believe in prevention in healthcare, whether it is physical health or mental health. If you have been struggling throughout 2020 (or longer), it would be good to make an appointment with one of NOAH’s counselors or psychiatrists now.

People who are at a higher risk, or who deal with chronic depression or anxiety, should be seeing someone on a somewhat regular basis, and especially if holiday stress or loneliness would trigger more emotions. Another warning sign is isolation. If you notice yourself isolating more or see changes in a loved one with their moods or interactions, that is a good time to make or encourage an appointment.

Everyone can benefit from counseling.

Find Ways to Enjoy the Season

Now that we are ready to adjust our expectations, embrace the emotions of the season, and know what to expect, we can find new ways to celebrate the season safely for our holiday mental health.

Make your plans – even virtual ones – now! If you want to do a video call with multiple family members, make those arrangements. Remember that some people may not have reliable WiFi or be comfortable on using certain technologies. Making phone calls, doing drive-by visits, and sending cards are ways to share the season with people you care about.

Remember to also be thankful and show gratitude which is helpful to your mental and emotional health all year. Showing gratitude to your family, friends, coworkers, neighbors and even strangers can have a ripple effect. So, hold the door open, smile (with your eyes if you’re wearing a mask), give a compliment, or make small talk with the cashier, and you will brighten many people’s day in the process.

If you don’t have a counselor to talk to, reach out to NOAH’s team of experts. Virtual visits are common and can fit in your schedule and lifestyle.