I’m always surprised each year when I experience the first cold-weather-day of the season. I always know the chill of winter is coming, but it never ceases to catch me off guard. For some, this change brings in the anticipation of holiday cheer, Christmas trees, and Hallmark movies on repeat. Yet others feel beaten down by the relentless optimistic cheer clashing with the lack of serotonin and sunlight; ushering in Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) symptoms.
Holidays & Mental Health
There are so many things that contribute to the feelings of the season that it sometimes feels like the odds are stacked up against us. From shorter days to family issues, societal pressures of packing out schedules, and doing the most. There are so many factors to consider, so let’s go over what we are up against.
F is for FAMILY
Nothing says holidays quite like spending time arguing with family members. Family is often a major stressor of the holiday season reminding us of past hurts, trauma, and toxic relationships. The trauma we’ve worked so hard to deal with or bury from our childhood easily resurfaces during holiday dinner with family. Or we are reminded of the loved ones who have passed that we miss dearly. All this while being gaslit and manipulated by toxic family members.
Tips for dealing with family during the holidays:
- Boundaries. We don’t have to just “put up” with our situation. Give yourself a voice in the matter by establishing clear boundaries beforehand. If you know that a conversation about religion is triggering, establish a boundary and enforce it. Remember, healthy boundaries are stated using “I” statements. Example: “I feel uncomfortable when Uncle Bob says racist comments and I need to remove myself from this conversation.” Boundaries don’t always have to be voiced, remember, a good boundary starts with you. When a boundary starts with someone else, you give them the power.
- “What an odd thing to say.” Sometimes, it is necessary to voice our boundaries or concerns. Boundary phrases are a great tool to utilize when someone around us says something that warrants a corrective response and assertion of personal values. Kami Orange does a great job of teaching and sharing boundary phrases through social media and her website.
- Establishing how much time and energy we are giving. All of the family members and all of the places to go, we can easily feel like we are being dragged from place to place with little control. It’s important to set time limits and boundaries of who we see (and don’t see) and where we go. If a family member is consistently disrespectful of our values and beliefs, we can limit, or even cancel, the time that we spend with people and situations that are triggering for us.
Have a Holly Jolly TikTok dance
The societal expectation to be holly and jolly during the holiday season is relentless. One scroll down influencer lane can leave us with the holiday blues in a hurry.
- Mindful scrolling. Seeing a picture-perfect family living out the holiday dream we’ve always wanted can take a toll. It’s important to remind ourselves that social media is not real. Yes, the people and friends we follow and double tap are real people BUT they are only showing what they want to show and they don’t show you what goes on when they aren’t perfectly timing their TikTok shot. Remind yourself that social media is not real life.
- Limit interactions with comparison traps. If you follow a friend or account that constantly makes you feel less than, limit or unfollow them. Social media gives you what they think you want. You don’t have to subject yourself with content that makes you feel like you are not enough.
Know your pre-dispositions and use coping skills.
Mental illness is real. It’s important to be aware and be aware of times we are more vulnerable.
- Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). The shortest day of the year is just four days before the Christmas holiday. This means that we are lacking the supportive serotonin boost of sunlight for a portion of the day. Making sure that we are getting outside when we are able is vital. Taking a walk during lunch or the afternoon, or sitting by a window with bright natural light during the day can be helpful in combatting SAD.
- Use coping skills that you already have. If yoga and exercise are a key component to your mental state, then make time to do this.
- Talking to a friend of loved one. Studies show that 55% experience holiday loneliness, 75% of Gen Zers. Depression makes you feel like you’re are the only one experiencing this but you aren’t. Talking with trusted people can make us feel like we aren’t alone because they have likely felt the same way. (https://www.valuepenguin.com/holiday-loneliness-survey)
- Find a mental health professional. There are clinicians who can help you as you continue to grow and establish healthy boundaries with loved ones. You are not expected to do it on your own and you don’t have to. I recommend using a directory such as psychology today, asking trusted friends and family, or doing a quick google search.
It’s difficult to balance the holiday depression that comes along with the inevitable overplaying of cliché songs and re-hashing family drama. If I can leave you with one thing, just know that you are not alone. You are not the only one who feels like this or who is trying to heal and grow. Sometimes, the bravest thing we can do is to admit that it’s hard and be vulnerable enough to heal.