Mental Illness, Stress and the Holidays
The holiday season is anticipated with joyous expectations for many of us. Family, friends, festivities abound. But there are millions of people battling mental illnesses everyday that have a different type of anticipation: social anxiety, loneliness, depression, fear and even dread. The hoopla and chaos that delight some, overwhelm and shutdown others. If you feel frozen and confused in the midst of this warm and hopeful time, I would like to offer a few thoughts you may find helpful.
Set Boundaries. The most important thing you can do to cope through the holidays is to know yourself, your limitations and your strengths. Have realistic expectations for the events you attend and the people you rub shoulders with. Do not give in to well-meaning people who may pressure you to stretch yourself and your emotions too thin. When at all possible, keep your regular schedule: eating, sleeping, medication. A steady, predictable routine will help balance you and keep you moving forward. You should definitely try to make time to celebrate with those you care about and enjoy the sights and sounds of the season, just make sure you are true to yourself and take the steps to unwind and relax when things get hectic.
Life Isn’t a Hallmark Movie. We may all binge watch these sweet ( and sometimes sappy ) movies from time to time, but make no mistake, life rarely works out with neatly tied bows and perfect smiles just in time for Christmas Eve around a roaring fire and sparkling lights. We hurt. We lose people we love. We are disappointed. Families aren’t always loving and kind. Depression and loneliness greatly intensifies during this time of year when social media and advertisers portray everyone as having a perfect life. We wonder where we wrong because that certainly is not us! I have news for you; NO ONE has a perfect life! We all just have to do the very best we can with where we are. The world keeps revolving regardless of the date on the calendar. Take care of yourself and never compare your place on the path with anyone else’s. We all have pain and we all have joy; we just don’t all express it the same way.
Find a Support System. This may be family, or it may not, but everyone needs a tribe, a few select people who accept and support without judgment or expectations. I am not saying this is an easy task. It means we have to be open and vulnerable ( and honest ) with others and this can be extremely difficult. It helps if we practice living our lives with acceptance of others and adopting a non-judgmental attitude of those around us. This allows us to be seen as caring and supportive and others will be drawn to that. If the thought of attending a company party or family dinner distresses you, ask a friend to go with you. Be willing to return the favor if asked. If that is not possible, designate someone as your text lifeline. If you feel anxious in a situation, slip them a text and share your feelings. Their comforting feedback will help calm your nerves. You can also use your faith to comfort you. Pray. Meditate. Talk with your pastor (or a pastor). This is a good time to remember the reason we celebrate CHRISTmas in the first place.
We Are All in This Together. Maybe you are reading this, but don’t really identify with anything I’ve said. Good for you! Chances are though; you know someone who is affected and struggling. Educate yourself. Be aware of those around you showing signs of anxiety or sadness. Do not try to ‘fix’ them, just accept them. Offer to help, support, and be there. Give them a safe place to decompress or allow them to vent, cry or release pent up emotions. You don’t have to understand what they are going through, just be available to listen.
My Hopefuls, I truly wish each of you a Merry Christmas. I am aware this particular post may be coming a little late in the season as Christmas is right around the corner now. I do wish I would have put it together sooner, but just like many of you, I struggle myself. I watch those around me celebrate with such joy and sometimes it feels like I’m standing in the cold with my nose pressed against the window watching the beautiful people do beautiful things oblivious to my existence. Can anyone relate? Maybe it’s just me. But what I finally realized is that MY people are beautiful and MY life and the things in it are beautiful and at the end of the day, that’s all that matters. So surround yourself in your own special, unique brand of beautiful. Be proud of who you are and believe in the power of love and the goodness that shines brighter this time of year than any other.
Merry Christmas to you and yours.
Hope With Abandon