The holiday season is generally anticipated with joy and Christmas cheer, but for many people, the expectations of happiness are only met with disappointment and loneliness. For some, the time of year is met with busy holiday parties, gathering with friends and families, rushing to the mall to buy gifts and making time to recount blessings from the season. For others, however, the time of year is a painful reminder of the loss of loved ones either through death, separation by physical distance or through breakups. Many people experience the pain of loneliness as they are unable to participate in the festive season due to mental illness.
Whether you are dealing with depression or another form of mental illness, grief or a medical condition during the holidays, physical, mental and financial strain can make the holiday season less than merry. It is important to take care of yourself and your loved ones who have a mental illness, as statistics show people are especially vulnerable to illness and accidents when under severe stress.
The following are tips for those interested in avoiding or coping with holiday depression, anxiety and mania to enjoy the season:
- Know your triggers and expect set-backs: Many people with mental illnesses – especially bi-polar disorder – experience difficulty during the holidays due to disrupted schedules, over-stimulation and excessive drinking in the name of “holiday cheer.” As someone struggling with mental illness, it is imperative that you or your loved one is aware of certain triggers and how to handle them. If you are traveling across time zones or partying late at night, even the loss of just one night of sleep can trigger mood swings. Avoid disrupted schedules if you can, and if you cannot, let others know how they can help you. Do not keep your friends or relatives in the dark about how they can best keep your spirits up.
- Rethink your expectations: Try not to let your expectations soar, as many people experience loneliness during the holidays because of our culture’s high expectations for joy and happiness this time of year. Do not fall into the “movie standards” of holiday cheer, but rather, shift your focus to all you have to be thankful for. When you and your family get together or you attend the annual Christmas party, you may realize that the time you spend with people you love is not as jolly as you expected. Try to remember that even the flawed love of a difficult family member still counts as love and that you are not alone.
- Stop excluding yourself: It is easy to be reclusive, especially if you suffer from a mental illness that can be isolating in the midst of holiday cheer. Push yourself to go out and attend holiday parties and gatherings, while also keeping in mind the value of realistic expectations. Reach out to old friends and family and do not be afraid to initiate when it comes to rekindling friendships. If you want companionship, ask for it. Often, loneliness occurs when we are too afraid to look for what we really want.
- Volunteer to a cause or event: One way to avoid loneliness is to realize that you are not alone, and that many other people are struggling during the holidays as well. When you are able to realize all that you have to be thankful for, loneliness often fades away. When you join different organizations or causes, you are able to participate alongside other volunteers, giving you the opportunity to give back in a larger sense. Remembering that there are others who are less fortunate and lonelier than you are can cause you to draw from a stronger source of inspiration.
- Do not stretch yourself too thin: A part of scaling back your expectations means being easy on yourself and knowing that the gifts do not have to be perfect, and neither do the decorations, turkey or anything else. Do not play host if you tend to struggle with depression or other forms of mental illness during the holidays. Be open and direct with your family and let them know what it is you really need. It is okay to say “no” sometimes, especially during the holidays.
- Try not to overindulge: Try to be intentional about staying away from alcohol if excessive drinking worsens your depression, bi-polar disorder or other physical and mental health conditions. Rather than letting yourself drink excessively or emotionally overeat, try to stick to a somewhat normal diet and schedule. If the allure of sweets is too tempting, search for an accountability partner in your family or friend group.
Safe Harbor Christian Counseling wants to help you understand that you are not alone – especially during the holiday season. The group acknowledges that the Christmas season can be difficult, and the counselors and coaches at Safe Harbor want to help restore a joyful holiday season for you and your loved ones. The outpatient mental health services include individual therapy, couples therapy and family therapy as well as phone and video counseling.
Safe Harbor offers child and adolescent counseling services, adult counseling services and couples counseling. If you struggle with depression, bi-polar disorder, anxiety, stress or other mental and physical health conditions, the counseling experts are devoted to helping you find a solution.
For more information on Safe Harbor’s counseling, coaching and therapy services, visit http://www.safeharbor1.com. Interested individuals are welcome to join in on the faith-based dialogue found on our Facebook page and welcome to follow Safe Harbor Christian Counseling on Twitter.