‘Tis the season to be jolly? Let’s be honest, this has been a difficult year for our mental health as we try to navigate through the midst of a pandemic.
Feeling joy and peace is not a switch that gets turned on December 1st just because the holidays are upon us. Participating in festive activities, additional expenses, dealing with crowds (while navigating new restrictions due to the pandemic), interacting with family and friends you do not see every day, along with added tasks to the to-do list, can make the holidays challenging. If you are suffering from PTSD, depression or anxiety, the holidays can bring added frustration, tension, stress, guilt, sadness, grief, and overall discomfort. Relaxing into the holiday spirit may feel like an impossible feat.
The holidays should make things better between everyone and all tension will melt away. Their will be instant inner peace and joy for all things during the holiday season. Other people and their families have perfect, stress free and tension free holidays. These are all myths; you may find yourself believing in. Although there is no magic ‘wish upon a star’ that will make your struggles go away, there are some things you can do to help manage your symptoms and situations surrounding the holidays.
Planning ahead – Although you cannot predict everything that might happen, creating a plan can provide you with confidence in certain situations which will help you feel safe and in control. It may also help you realize that perhaps there are certain events or activities you should skip this season. Knowing ahead of time and planning can also manage everyone’s expectations and perhaps avoid unnecessary conflicts.
- Ask yourself, what are the things that might trigger me (sounds, smells, activities, certain people, situations, questions, or conversations)?
- Write out each scenario that comes to mind.
- Explore what emotions each scenario brings up (anger, panic, frustrations, sadness, guilt, shame etc.)
- What reaction in you do these feelings evoke? (tension in certain parts of the body, stomach-ache, an urge to scream, overwhelming need to cry, a desire to run away or hide, etc.)
- If you begin to feel overwhelmed take a break, get outside for some fresh air, engage in some breathing exercises, or practice any other healthy coping strategies you have.
- When you are ready, create a plan or ideas on how to manage these scenarios in a way that you will feel safe, confident and in control.
Here are some things to consider that you may find helpful:
Don’t do it alone – Booking a session with your psychologist or clinical counsellor around the holidays is a great way to get additional support. Asking a loved one, or someone in your support team, to help you plan and provide you with additional support in the moment can be another great resource.
Set boundaries – Setting timelines or limits on how long you spend at an event, activity or gathering can help manage your stress levels as well as expectations from others. If there is an event that you think will be very triggering for you, consider not attending the event all together. If you feel comfortable, let people know that you may be leaving early or you may need to step out for a moment. Setting these expectations ahead of time can help you get the space or support you need without drawing unwanted attention or reactions from others.
Whether you will be seeing family and friends in person or through video chat this season, they may be curious and concerned about how you are doing. You may find yourself being asked questions you do not want or know how to answer. Preparing a general answer can help you manage questions with confidence. “Thanks for asking but I don’t want to talk about it right now.” “Its nice that you are interested but I don’t feel comfortable talking about it.” Following up by asking them about their work, children, pets, or life events is a great way to redirect the conversation away from topics that make you uncomfortable.
Self-Care – Your self-care is very important. With the added activities and interactions, it is easy to get tired and overwhelmed. In addition to already not sleeping well, this can be very draining. Take as much time to rest as you can. Try to make your regular self-care routine a priority before anything else.
Give yourself space to feel and heal. Constant action and festivities can be overstimulating. Give yourself permission to step away, reconnect and get grounded, especially when you begin to feel negative emotions or thoughts. Find what works best for you. You can try going for a walk or any activity that gets you out into nature. Meditation is a great way to help your body and mind find and maintain calmness. Consider saving a meditation practice or other guided relaxation practices on your phone so you have quick and easy access. Find a space ahead of time that you can step away to when things begin to be too much for you. Have a pair of headphones on hand to shut out the outside noise. If you attended our Traumatic Stress Recovery Program (TSRP), you can also use the Muse Headband to help you regain a sense of calm. However, it may not always be possible to step away. Consider having an item on you such as a bracelet, watch, necklace, or small item in your pocket that you can touch to remind you to take a breath and ground yourself. It may sound simple, but when we begin to feel overwhelmed, we end up holding our breath and tensing our bodies. Taking a deep breath can help you release tension and regain control.
Snacks, sweets, heavy meals, and alcohol are usually part of the holiday package. Most of us find ourselves overindulging during this time. However, trying to maintain healthy eating habits along with your regular exercise routine is a great way to help you manage stress. Alcohol may seem like a great way to take the edge off but in reality; it tends to heighten emotions and reduce our ability to manage our behaviour. Skipping the drinks all together or limiting your intake might be something to consider.
If the idea of crowds and long lines make you feel anxious or overwhelmed, consider taking advantage of on-line shopping, curbside pickup, grocery ‘click and collect’ or ask someone to do the shopping for you. Most importantly try to keep things simple.
For many of us the holidays may look different this year from other years. Large gatherings and certain traditional seasonal activities may not be happening this year with the restrictions in place due to the pandemic. Although, some of this can be hard, if we look closely enough, we might just find some gifts in this. This may be a chance to slow things down, invest your time in yourself, your needs and those of your immediate family. Explore the idea of new, simpler traditions. If you have children consider, that what kids ultimately want most is to be seen and spent time with. This might be the time to explore that park you never have time to visit or go for a walk around your neighbourhood at night to see all the lights and decorations. Maybe you can allow yourself relax at home, have a day spent in your pajamas, binge watching holiday classics; Miracle on 34th Street, Elf, The Grinch, Home Alone, The Holiday and maybe even all five Die Hard movies (viewer discretion is advised). Video chat apps like Zoom, Facetime and Houseparty are also a great way to connect with family and friends over the holiday. You may even find it to be less pressure connecting with them in the safety and security of your own space.
If you find yourself alone this holiday season, try keeping up with your daily routine and getting outside as much as possible. Find at least one person that can connect with you either in person, over the phone or video call. The holidays can bring up a lot of unexpected emotions and memories. Having someone connect with you can help you reconnect with the present moment. Remember, you are not alone, Crisis Services Canada is available 24/7 toll free at 1-833-456-4566.
Regardless of how you will be spending this holiday season, remember, your healing journey is important and as unique as you are, your needs, limits, emotions, and experiences are valid. You deserve to feel safe and to take the time to care for yourself; explore and engage in mental health habits, rest, drink lots of water and when in doubt, always try to re-connect with your breath.
Published on December 9, 2020
Paulina Sienko, BSW