As I’ve written before, I tend to get sad during the wintertime. At this point, it’s become something to expect and prepare for more than anything else, but that doesn’t make it any less frustrating when it happens. But it’s not just the wintertime – it’s the holidays, too. Last year, I wrote that it’s okay not to be okay during this festive period, and while the sentiment remains true for this year, I also wanted to issue a gentle reminder that many people struggle with their mental health during the holiday season, and what we can do about it.
Like many people, the December holidays (or any holidays, really) haven’t been normal for me these last two years. I’ve had to game-plan and prepare myself physically, mentally and emotionally for how I can see my people in the safest and most secure environment we can create.
Last year, before the COVID vaccines were out, there was a lot of stress, but the light at the end of that tunnel was that when the vaccines came, it was possible that we could have a normal holiday next December. One year later, that anxiety hasn’t gone anywhere – in fact, I think it’s gotten even worse.
And yet, I’m still going to have to figure out a way to take care of my mental health and wellness during the holidays. That’s the one thing that will never change. No matter what’s going on in the world or our personal lives, our mental health is always there, needing to be looked after. And it’s important that this year, we acknowledge how hard the holidays might be for the people in your life.
While COVID and the current state of the world certainly exacerbate our challenges, this time of year has always been particularly difficult for people who experience mental illness. According to a study done by the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 64% of people with mental illness report holidays make their conditions worse. And that study was done before the pandemic.
There are many symptoms that can heighten our mental health struggles, but the holidays can create uniquely stressful situations. Some people who experience mental illness are triggered by feeling overly stressed, and the stressful situations the holidays can create (that are usually different than the day-to-day stress we fact) can contribute to worsening symptoms for folks.
So, what does this mean for us as we head into the holidays? Like many other aspects of mental health, it doesn’t mean we have to completely change how we act around someone (in fact, that’s probably the last thing you want to do). But checking in with people and asking how they’re doing is a start. Past a holiday check-in, just letting people know they you’re there if they need anything is always a helpful reminder. A moment, activity or song could trigger an unpleasant memory for many during this holiday time, and knowing they have someone to share that experience with can go a long way.
We also need to understand that some parts of the “most wonderful time of the year” are just opposite for some people, and that’s okay. Like any other time of the year, some of this time might be beautiful, and some of might be difficult to get through. But when we name this struggle and prepare for it, hopefully we feel a little less alone. Happy holidays to all.