7 December 2020 15:38
In many ways, the holiday season acts as a lynchpin for not just how we plan our lives but also for our mental health as well. As we grow up most of us will at some point leave the family home, perhaps for other cities, maybe even distant countries. Because of this, the opportunities to meet up with family and old friends become ever more remote and important when they occur.
But it’s worth remembering that this isn’t the case for everyone. For some people, holidays can offer a painful reminder of past experiences, or the family life and support network that they may lack.
Even for those of us without such reservations, this year’s celebrations will be significantly impacted by COVID-19. Families either have been or will be separated by the various quarantines and lockdowns put in place throughout the world - a situation that whilst necessary only exacerbates isolation and poor mental health.
Even in normal times, Christmas, or indeed any holiday season, can be a source of unique stresses and as such it's worth being aware of them and preparing as best you can against the challenges to come.
With that in mind, here at Lifekeys, we’ve drafted a special survival guide for the holidays:
As with many things mental health-related, it can seem easier to deny the problem than to face it. It’s ok to acknowledge that you feel sad or down. Convincing yourself that “Christmas = Happy” is likely to be counterproductive, and only heighten the pressure you put on yourself.
One of the most pernicious things about isolation is how reinforcing it can be. Especially in a time of quarantines and lockdowns, it can be all too easy to remain alone and self-isolated. But the fact is that there will still be ways of reaching out, even if it’s via video calls to distant friends and relatives.
By the same token, there may well be volunteering opportunities in your local community, despite lockdown measures. These can offer a chance to meet others perhaps in similar situations and form new mutually supportive networks.
With that said, it’s also important to manage expectations, whether you’re able to make new contacts, see family in person or online, or simply spend time in your own company.
Oftentimes we feel the need to compare ourselves with others and form entirely unrealistic expectations of our own lives as a result. Christmas, in particular, can be a really magical time of the year, but that doesn’t mean that we should expect everything to be a fairytale ending to the year. Doing so may ultimately reinforce feelings of inferiority or disappointment. Being optimistic, but really is the best bet for most.
Part of the realistic expectations that we can make pertains to how we treat others. Whilst some families are entirely harmonious, most of us will have people in our network who we may like less than others, perhaps even actively dislike.
The holidays are a time to set as many disagreements as we can to one side, or for a more appropriate time. That is not to say we simply forgive and forget, as this can sometimes be unrealistic. Rather, it can be helpful to simply try and be more accommodating and understanding towards others. Remember, they are likely to be feeling similar to you, and they may in fact be just as if not more stressed by the demands of the holiday season.
One of the most conspicuous of these demands, especially at Christmas, is the social pressure to spend money - on gifts, on food, and so on. During the yuletide period, many families will spend themselves into debt that takes months to pay off.
Something like this is likely to not only cause stress in the short term as we agonise over what gifts to buy but also in the long term as the knock-on financial effects begin to bite in the new year. Making a budget can help keep a lid on some of the worst of these urges.
It’s one thing to make a list, it’s quite another thing to keep to it. Don’t beat yourself up for going over budget but remember that financial receipts are rarely a good way to measure love and affection.
Likewise, bear in mind that it’s the thought rather than the cost that counts. Homemade gifts or items of significance can often be far more appreciated by both the recipient and your bank balance.
At the same time, you want to make sure that you keep up all your usual good habits. Overindulgence at the best of times can be a trigger for guilt for many people. Whilst you should, of course, relax things a little over the holidays, that’s not to say you shouldn’t try and keep up your usual exercise routines, manage your alcohol intake and maintain as many as possible of the things that you usually do to feel like you’re on track.
For example, perhaps there isn’t a gym nearby where you’re visiting, or perhaps it’s shut. One way to burn off the Christmas pudding might be to go for a run. Not only the exercise but simply being out in nature can be enough to help boost your mood.
Sometimes it can be the simplest things that make a difference: making plans and sticking to them can give us a sense of achievement, helping others - whether it's volunteering or simply tidying up after dinner - can make us feel better about ourselves. Using the extra free time to stay away from the more negative aspects of social media and panic-inducing 24-hours news and focus on positive aspects of our time off will ultimately pay dividends.
Ultimately, if we’re able to engage with others - or even simply ourselves - on a more caring and supportive level this season it’s likely to help us all feel better.