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Two snowmen on a sunny day

What comes to mind with the mention of the holidays or holiday season? For me, warm and happy thoughts and feelings fill my mind and my heart as I remember past holidays.  Anticipation for the upcoming festivities and celebrations also prevail. While many of you share my thoughts and feelings, not everyone has the same view of the holidays. For millions of people struggling with loss or some type of mental health challenge, the holidays are anything but jolly.

Since one in four Americans has some type of mental health challenge in any given year, it is very likely that each us knows or will interact with someone who may be struggling. According to a survey from 2014, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) reported that approximately 24% of people with a diagnosed mental illness found that the holidays made their condition “a lot” worse and 40% “somewhat” worse.” So, just because most people view the holiday season as merry and bright, does not mean everyone shares that sentiment.

The Mayo Clinic offers these suggestions to help reduce stress and depression that can occur with the holiday season:

  1. Acknowledge your feelings. If someone close to you has recently died or you can’t be with loved ones, realize that it’s normal to feel sadness and grief. It’s OK to take time to cry or express your feelings. You can’t force yourself to be happy just because it’s the holiday season.
  2. Reach out. If you feel lonely or isolated, seek out community, religious or other social events. They can offer support and companionship. Volunteering your time to help others also is a good way to lift your spirits and broaden your friendships.
  3. Be realistic. The holidays don’t have to be perfect or just like last year. As families change and grow, traditions and rituals often change as well. Choose a few to hold on to, and be open to creating new ones. For example, if your adult children can’t come to your house, find new ways to celebrate together, such as sharing pictures, emails or videos.
  4. Set aside differences. Try to accept family members and friends as they are, even if they don’t live up to all of your expectations. Set aside grievances until a more appropriate time for discussion. And be understanding if others get upset or distressed when something goes awry. Chances are they’re feeling the effects of holiday stress and depression, too.
  5. Stick to a budget. Before you go gift and food shopping, decide how much money you can afford to spend. Then stick to your budget. Don’t try to buy happiness with an avalanche of gifts. Here are some ideas:Hands with blue mittens on holding a snow flake
    • Donate to a charity in someone’s name.
    • Give homemade gifts.
    • Start a family gift exchange.
  6. Plan ahead. Set aside specific days for shopping, baking, visiting friends and other activities. Plan your menus and then make your shopping list. That’ll help prevent last-minute scrambling to buy forgotten ingredients. Don’t forget to line up help for party prep and cleanup.
  7. Learn to say no. Saying yes when you should say no can leave you feeling resentful and overwhelmed. Friends and colleagues will understand if you can’t participate in every project or activity. If it’s not possible to say no when your boss asks you to work overtime, try to remove something else from your agenda to make up for the lost time.
  8. Don’t abandon healthy habits. Don’t let the holidays become a free-for-all. Overindulgence only adds to your stress and guilt. Try these suggestions:
    • Have a healthy snack before holiday parties so that you don’t go overboard on sweets, cheese or drinks.
    • Get plenty of sleep.
    • Incorporate regular physical activity into each day.
  9. Take a breather. Make some time for yourself. Spending just 15 minutes alone, without distractions, may refresh you enough to handle everything you need to do. Find something that reduces stress by clearing your mind, slowing your breathing and restoring inner calm. Some options may include:
    • Taking a walk at night and stargazing.
    • Listening to soothing music.
    • Getting a massage.
    • Reading a book.
  10. Seek professional help if you need it. Despite your best efforts, you may find yourself feeling persistently sad or anxious, plagued by physical complaints, unable to sleep, irritable and hopeless, and unable to face routine chores. If these feelings last for a while, talk to your doctor or a mental health professional.

The holiday season can be stressful, but with some thoughtful planning and by using some of these suggestions, it doesn’t have to be.

 

Writer: Misty Harmon, Extension Educator, Family and Consumer Sciences, Ohio State University Extension, Perry County, harmon.416@osu.edu

Reviewer: Lisa Barlage, Extension Educator, Family and Consumer Sciences, Ohio State University Extension,  Ross County, barlage.7@osu.edu

Photo:

https://pixabay.com/en/snowman-winter-snowmen-holiday-640366/

https://pixabay.com/en/snow-winter-mittens-snowflake-cold-1918794/

Sources:

National Alliance on Mental Health, (2017). Managing Your Mental Health During the Holidays. Retrieved from: https://www.nami.org/Blogs/NAMI-Blog/December-2017/Managing-Your-Mental-Health-During-the-Holidays

National Alliance on Mental Health, (2014). Mental Health and the Holiday Blues. Retrieved from: https://www.nami.org/Press-Media/Press-Releases/2014/Mental-health-and-the-holiday-blues

Mayo Clinic, (2017). Stress, depression and the holidays: Tips for coping. Retrieved from: https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/stress/art-20047544

National Alliance on Mental Health, (2015). Tips for Managing the Holiday Blues. Retrieved from: https://www.nami.org/Blogs/NAMI-Blog/November-2015/Tips-for-Managing-the-Holiday-Blues

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