Tag Archives: holidays

Five Ways to Support Someone With Mental Illness During the Holidays

The holiday season can be stressful for the best of us, and for those (like myself) living with mental illness it can be extremely challenging. I feel like one of the questions I hear most is, “how can I be supportive of my friend or family member with mental illness during the holidays?” Here are five great places to start!

5. Invite them over

Many of the people I know who are struggling this time of year don’t get along well with their families, and therefore have no place to go during the holidays. If you can invite them over for Christmas dinner with your family that would be swell, but even just inviting them over to spend time together one on one or in a small group around that time can be incredibly uplifting when it can be hard to get out of the house. That said,

4. Don’t take it personally if they don’t make it over

Many times, just the invitation of having someplace to go is nice, but sometimes this prospect can be overwhelming or our current mental state isn’t exactly polished enough to feel comfortable in a large social setting. Our discomfort often arises from our moods, anxiety, or medications, not the person kind enough to invite us over. If you’ve invited someone over to your party, gathering, or other social event, please remember that if we say no, it isn’t a reflection on you.

3. Encourage them to arrive late, leave early, or take a breather from the party

I know I’ve often felt pressure from folks at parties when I expressed that I needed to leave early (often because of mood swings or side effects from medications) and being encouraging of your friend or family member during a social gathering to arrive or leave when they need to, or even to take a breather outside to get out of the crowd can be extremely helpful. When I know people are grateful that I came to an event, even if just for a little while, I’m much more likely to feel comfortable enough to go again.

2. Try to avoid the pressure of gift-giving

While many people with mental illness do perfectly fine for themselves monetarily, there are also many of us who can’t work because of our situation. Though it is always nice to receive a gift, it can feel very stressful knowing you don’t have anything to give in return. My family has done something this year that has really, really helped me with this; they’ve expressed they’re more interested in spending time with me than receiving gifts. Putting focus on being able to spend time with someone that you love or care about instead of the gift-giving aspect of the holidays can be a big stress relief.

1. Let them know how much they mean to you

Maybe the person you want to feel supported is someone you see regularly, and it is easy to tell them how much they mean to you. If not, a phone call is a great option, or even sending a card with a note inside in the mail. Personally, I shy away from messages through electronic means (email, text, and facebook) as I find they feel more impersonal and actually make me feel more isolated and depressed. If you’re sending a message of love, why not make it feel as personal as possible!

Feel Like a Mess? It’s Holiday Stress!

A week before Thanksgiving my therapist told me that every single client that week had walked through the door with one complaint: The Holidays.

For those of us with round the clock anxiety, the holidays are the time of year when that anxiety gets taken up a notch. The knob gets turned to the proverbial “11” if you will, and the reason behind it can usually be pinpointed straight away: family.

Families cause even the most sane people stress during the holidays, and as decades of films have shown us, there is no such thing as a “normal family”. I’m sure everyone knows by now that the idea of a “normal family” is a bit of a joke, but I think that the real message here is that there is no such thing as a stress-free family.

The thing I have heard repeated as the number one tool to help combat holiday anxiety:

You have the right to say, “no”.

This concept is extremely difficult for me, I don’t like saying no. I don’t like people thinking I am generally disagreeable! Most of us also feel extremely obligated to participate in family events over the holidays, but if you aren’t feeling up to it or know that you will potentially have to deal with family members who aggravate your symptoms it is alright to say no.

Ideally, our health should be our top priority. Mental health doubly so.

Honestly the most difficult part of saying no to anything (for me) is feeling incredibly guilty after. My ideas to combat this?

  • Send cute Christmas cards in lieu of attending festivities
  • Bake or buy treats to send to friends or family
  • If possible, schedule times to see the family members you’d like to see individually throughout December or January so that the potential crowd isn’t there
  • Volunteer at your local soup kitchen/etc.
  • Give the family a call on Christmas and allow them to pass around the phone so you can say hello!

If you’ve ruled out the family holiday altogether some great things to do instead:

  • Go to the movies
  • Eat out (I had sushi once on Thanksgiving, it was excellent!)
  • Travel
  • Go camping or skiing
  • Volunteer
  • Curl up by the fire with a good book
  • Meet with other friends in the area that are also potentially spending the holidays alone -a casual environment will usually mean a less stressful holiday.

Alright, so the family asked, and you’ve already said yes. You’re going to the family event, but fear not! There are still things you can do to help combat the stress.

  1. Take the time to do something relaxing before the event. Sometimes this means driving into town an hour early to stop at your favorite coffee shop for a hot chocolate, drive around to look at Christmas lights, or go for a short walk. Anything that will help ground you a little bit will help with the nerves before that event, so try to plan ahead to give yourself that opportunity to calm down.
  2. Eat something healthy before going to the event, it doesn’t have to be much. This way your body wont have to rely on the cookies and other sugary treats that are inevitably going to be there. I am by no means suggesting not eating cookies at all, just that by having a healthier base meal earlier the sugar will hopefully have less of an impact on mood and you’ll hopefully eat less of it.
  3. Allow yourself a time-out (or many!). If things start getting too hectic and uncle Milton (though lovingly) begins to refer to your “mental issues” it is perfectly fine to excuse yourself. Find refuge in a bathroom, spare room, or go for a walk to help ground yourself.
  4. Try to avoid rocking the boat. There are topics that might send some families into a heated argument, whether that is family drama, politics, you name it. That might include the topic of mental illness, even if that has more to do with you and less to do with them. My suggestion is to stick to more family-friendly topics if possible.
  5. Have a “safety zone”. If you can afford it (and you are spending several days with your family) get a hotel room  instead of staying at a relative’s house. Having a separate space where you can unwind and regroup can make all the difference when it comes to coping with family over an extended period of time.
  6. Arrive late or leave early. Or both! Putting in a brief appearance at a family event might be more realistic than spending a whole day (or more) at one. If this is the case, it is perfectly acceptable to make a brief appearance. Why not? In that situation, your family still had the opportunity to see you even if it was just for a short time.

Below I’ve included a few good articles about coping with holiday stress that are worth checking out as well, if that is indeed something that you’re having to deal with.

So there are two things I want you to take away from this post:

1. Families are stressful, but there are things you can do to help cope with that stress.

2. No matter what obligations you feel you have, it is always ok to say no.

And I hope that with a little thought and planning ahead of time the holidays stress will be a little less daunting this year!