Love em, hate em, or feel complete and total ambivalence towards them, the holidays, dear friends, are upon us. For some, you’re elated right now, feeling the warm and snuggly pull of all things festive, you’re watching the old movies that charmed you as a child, you’re listening to the songs that hit you with that bittersweet pang of nostalgia, you’re looking at the lights, you’re trimming the tree, you’re lighting the candles, and it’s probably something like peace you’re experiencing. This, however, is not always the case, and for many, the holiday season is one of the hardest time of the entire year. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness:
38% of people surveyed said their stress increased during the holiday season, which can lead to physical illness, depression, anxiety, and substance misuse. 64% of individuals living with a mental illness felt that their conditions worsened around the holidays.
Yikes. That’s an overwhelming statistic, and a heartbreaking one at that. Hell, even The King, Elvis, sang about getting really damn blue around Christmas. Question is, why? Turns out the reasons can range and cover a wide variety of “whys,” everything from financial stressors, lack of time, pressure around giving gifts, and even pressure around time with family. For others, it’s loss, as many times people feel completely claustrophobic about this season, many are newly alone, many are alone for what may feel like the hundredth time. Some have lost loved ones, some have moved out, moved away, or moved on. There are sixty seven dozen different reasons people might have trouble this time of year, and it needs to be said that even those who may feel they have no reason whatsoever to feel down or sad, might find themselves wrestling with those precise emotions.
That’s the bad news, the sad but true news. The good news is, there are ways that we can help protect and insulate ourselves from this holiday doldrum syndrome, and there are absolutely ways we can help offer a hand to others who might be struggling too. For starters, and there are many great ideas I encourage you to read and follow on this wonderful article from Mclean Hospital, you don’t have to celebrate at all, if you’re not feeling it this time around. It’s completely acceptable to forgo the usual holiday celebrations if you’re just not able, or willing, to fake it until you make it. This is ok. Putting yourself and your own mental health first is a courageous form of celebration, and don’t let a single soul tell you otherwise. If you want to try, you can always limit the number of invitations and ideas that you say Yes to, allowing some that you feel comfortable with in, whilst keep the others at bay. Again, this, is ok. Money got you scared? I know I’ve absolutely felt this, so please remember, gift giving does not have to be about money, and some of the best gifts you can ever give, or receive, cost nothing but time, love, and some honest thought.
If you’re like me, and when anxiety or stress builds you feel trapped, exercise can be an amazing way to create a healthy outlet for the pent-up energy and worry. You can set boundaries, making sure to leave time for yourself to stick to the routines you hold when not immersed in holiday fanfare. You can eat healthy, but still leave room for eating some of your holiday favorites. You can volunteer, as this time of year more help is needed than any other time, find a food bank, find a toy drive, find a shelter that needs your time and energy. You can sleep, well, and often, making sure to honor your own body. You can, and this is a huge one, support others, whilst also realizing it’s imperative to find support for yourself. You can reach out, admit when you’re low, and accept the help that will come, and if you feel like there’s no one to reach out to, there always is. You can, and absolutely should call the National Suicide Prevention Line at 1-800-273-8255; use the Crisis Text Line by texting NAMI to 741-741 to connect with a trained crisis counselor for free, 24/7 crisis support via text message; or call the NAMI Helpline at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264) M–F, 7 a.m.–3 p.m. PT for free mental health info, referrals and support.
We can go over the stats of this holiday all we want, talk about the numbers of people suffering whilst others are celebrating, but that’s only a part of the picture. The understanding of the people behind the numbers is the key to unlocking this thing. Realizing that we are are capable of sadness, even during what many believe is the happiest time of the year, can help normalize, and de-pressurize what’s already an Instant Pot of disaster, ready to burst.
For some, this time of year is what they wait for, all year patiently counting down the weeks until the songs return to the radio, the lights to the rooftops, and this is fantastic. I Love the holidays, but I would be lying if I said that I didn’t also feel strange pangs of sorrow, of anxiety, of a perplexed unease sometimes too. For a long time I was upset with myself about this, trying all I could to only seem happy, elated, at ease, or celebratory towards this season, and all it did was make things worse. We must, and I repeat, we MUST allow ourselves the freedom to admit when we’re low, and to remove the pressure to avoid this.
The holidays are, in short, a lot. And when things are a lot they are overwhelming, and when things are overwhelming, dammit, we get overwhelmed. This year, take the steps to make sure you, yes you, are ok. Beyond this, take the steps to check in on those you know and love, make sure they are ok too, and if they are not, instead of trying to snap them out of their mood and back into that beloved holiday spirit, offer your hand, offer your ear, offer your compassion, and see how to help them through. Not out, but through.
We’ve got one shot at this, and the greatest gift we can give ourselves, and everyone else around us, is our love and compassion. It costs nothing, and changes everything.
Some will celebrate,
some will fall into darkness,
some will need our hands.