Holiday Survival with Mental Illness

No matter which Holiday(s) you celebrate, getting together with family and friends, especially those you have not seen for some time...can bring a variety of emotions and triggers to those of us that struggle with mental illness.  We conjure up pictures in our mind of movies we've seen on the Hallmark Channel, magazines boast and show us how to put on the most beautiful holiday spread and decorate like Martha Stewart. Well, that's not so much what is going to go down for most of us! It is important to manage expectations during the holidays and not hope for things to be perfect. If holiday time tends to be a time of conflict in your family, or you’ve recently experienced the loss of a loved one, putting pressure on your family to all get along or to be cheerful could lead to disappointment and additional anxiety.

Why is depression so common during the Holiday Season? There are many issues that arise, one of the most prevalent is the additional stress and anxiety we put on ourselves to have the "perfect holiday". Depression can occur any time of the year, but November, December, and January may cause even those who are usually not depressed to experience loneliness and a lack of fulfillment. For some, it is a time of celebration, parties and holiday traditions. For others, social isolation comes into play and it is one of the main factors of depression during the holidays. This can lead to feelings of disconnectedness. Other people prefer to avoid social interactions at holiday time at all cost. Unfortunately, withdrawing often makes the feelings of loneliness and symptoms of depression worse. These people that choose not to participate may see other people spending time with friends and family, and ask themselves, "Why can't that be me?" or "Why is everyone else so much happier than I am?"

Another factor, in addition to the high prevalence of depression, is suicide rates often go up during holiday time. With the addition of partying, drinking alcohol, maybe taking recreational drugs...all of this can lead to a mixture for the perfect storm for someone to decide it's time to take their life.

Quote from - BBC News › magazine-25680933

“Nearly all countries in the world suffer from "excess winter deaths", which is the difference between the number of deaths which occur in winter (December to March) and the average number of deaths during the preceding four months (August to November) and the subsequent four months (April to July).

So, what can we do about this dilemma? Instead of isolating, reach out. Reach out to those around you in your circle of family and friends for support. Schedule extra appointments with your talk therapist for help. Why not try volunteering at a local soup kitchen, nursing home or church pantry, to help those who really are in need during this time of year? I find that, no matter how down I am, when I help others it brings my mood level up greatly. Last year, our Church had an opportunity to serve at the local Mission and pass out free turkeys, stuffing, and all the "fixings" to the needy in our county. Our whole family participated along with much of the Church family. As the poor from the inner city lined up with shopping carts donated from a local supermarket, we had an assembly line all set and we put the food in their carriages. The look of thankfulness and relief on their faces, the smiles, the thank you’s and the hugs were priceless. The experience lifted my spirits for a good couple of weeks, and we plan to join in again this year.

Being mindful of what you do have to be thankful for, like your sister who always makes family gatherings bearable, getting to see relatives and friends that you don't normally see on a regular basis. Just the music of the holidays puts me in a good mood! Why not plan a new tradition for your family. Instead of staying home, try vacationing in another part of the country. Take that time to get away and spend some quality family time you wouldn't normally be able to have with other responsibilities knocking at your door all the time. This year, we are going with our daughter and son-in-law to Nashville. We have a whole itinerary to take in the sights and sounds of a city we have not explored yet! We're all excited and it should be an awesome time of togetherness and celebration.

Whatever it is that you decide to do, just get out there and do it! Getting out of our heads and focusing on ourselves is so important when you suffer from mental illness. There is nothing better than distraction and helping others to bring you out of a slump! I understand that many of us can suffer from social anxiety and that is an issue, I will agree...but take small, baby steps towards doing something this holiday season that will bring joy and happiness to not only your heart, but the heart of another!

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