The holiday season is here, and with it comes the added pressure of shopping for the perfect gift, hosting a flawless dinner or scheduling the right amount of time to spend with family members. For those with mental illnesses, these stressors can intensify those feelings of sadness, loneliness, tension or fatigue. If you feel guilty about stressing over what is supposed to be the most joyous season, know that you are not alone.
There are so many things about the holidays that are out of our control. Fortunately, there are ways to cope and reduce stress or tension.
- Express your feelings. When you’re feeling something, don’t be afraid to let it out. Say it aloud to yourself, a friend or even a pet. It’s OK to cry or even scream. “Once you get it out, you already feel better about it,” says Benjamin Johnson-Markve, PsyD, board-certified neuropsychologist.
- Seek Community. Maybe you have suffered a loss or are feeling particularly lonely this season; remember that you are not alone as there are other people out there experiencing the same thing. Share your experience and listen to theirs. Lean on each other and find out what has helped them through tough times. Remember that chosen family can be as powerful as biological family. See below for a list of resources.
- Make a Plan. Planning your activities ahead of time can greatly reduce the stress of doing many things last-minute. Have a schedule for things like shopping, cooking, cleaning or gift-wrapping.
- Establish Boundaries. Conflict can arise between family members during the holidays over politics, religion, or even schedules. Dr. Johnson-Markve recommends steering clear of controversial topics, as they are best left to another time. Verbalize what you are not comfortable talking about and give reminders to set boundaries. It’s important, and okay, to assertively communicate with the other person when they’ve crossed a boundary.
- Set a Budget. The holidays are about way more than how much you spend on the presents or the food. Instead of increasing financial stress, set a realistic budget and keep in mind that it’s the thought that really counts.
- Take a Break. “Do a good self-check. Know when it’s time to take a break,” says Dr. Johnson-Markve. Schedule a day in December, when you will focus just on yourself and relaxation. Take a walk, play with your dog, or do something you enjoy. Make self-care a priority. Remember, you may want to help others but you “can’t pour from an empty cup”.
- Stay Healthy. While it’s perfectly fine to skip one workout or have a dessert every now and then, make sure you get back into your healthy routine the next day. It’s easier to stay mentally healthy when you’re physically healthy.
- Accept Reality. Not every holiday is going to be perfect. Not everything is in your control. Relieve yourself of the idea that it’s up to you to make the holidays joyous and perfect.
- Don’t Be Afraid of Saying No. There will always be times where you simply need to say “no”. Some people find it hard to say this word, but it might be the only way to do what’s best for you. Just say: No. “No” is a complete sentence.
- Get Help. Sometimes we all need help. If your anxiety, depression or general mental health is interfering with your daily life, reach out to a loved one or a professional who can help you cope with these feelings.
Some resources available to you:
- Mental Health Association of Central Florida:
If you are looking to be connected with local Central Florida mental health resources, call Call407-898-0110 or visit mhacf.org/mental-health-connections to have a Mental Health Connections Specialist help you find resources that fit your unique needs. Visit https://www.facebook.com/mhacf/ to find a list of upcoming free support groups and events.
- National Suicide Prevention Hotline:
A 24/7 hotline for anyone experiencing suicidal thoughts, or for anyone who knows someone who may be experiencing suicidal thoughts.
Phone: Call1-800-273-TALK (8255)
- Crisis Text Line:
A 24/7 texting hotline with trained crisis counselors. The hotline can be reached by texting 741741. Messaging fees are waived for most major cell carriers.
- NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) of Greater Orlando:
Free education programs are designed to empower, inform and support all individuals affected by mental illness, their families, caregivers and the community. They are taught by trained peer volunteers who possess lived experience with mental health disorders. Learn more at namigo.org/upcoming-educational-courses.
- Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS):
UCF students can access CAPS for free during semesters. CAPS offers group, individual, and couples counseling sessions, life coaching, crisis counseling, workshops, de-stressing events, and TAO (therapy assisted online) treatment. CAPS accepts walk-ins and appointments.
Website: caps.sdes.ucf.edu (If you are a student at a different school, see your guidance office to learn about your campus’ mental health resources.)