The holiday season can be tough on mental health. For those who struggle with symptoms or a specific diagnosis, the holidays may not feel as joyful as they do for others. Here are ways the holidays can be difficult:
1. Gatherings can lead to feeling trapped
Crowded or enclosed activities can be stressful, and may feel like something to best be avoided.
2. Trying to act “normal” when you don’t feel that way
Holiday festivities are supposed to be fun, and some mental health symptoms are far from joyful experiences. It can be stressful to show up at a holiday event and attempt to participate for the benefit of everyone else.
3. Broken families gather, too
The holidays can be stressful when family and friends have been a source of hurt or abuse in the past. When hurts or abuses occurred in private, it can be difficult for other loved ones to understand why seeing a certain family member is a source of distress.
4. Celebrations often involve over-indulgence in food and drink
For those with addictions or eating disorders, or for those with an intense sensitivity to unhealthy behavior, watching people eat and drink to excess can feel overwhelming. Being pressured to join them can be too much to bear.
How can we help support our loved ones who struggle during the holidays?
1. Be flexible
If your loved one is suffering this holiday, remind yourself that he or she may need accommodations. They may not be feeling festive, and that’s okay. Don’t let your desire for a joyous holiday make you impose your ideal on others.
2. Shield from difficult encounters
When you know your sister has a toxic relationship with your mother, or that your cousin was abused by a grandparent, you can help by keeping them apart when they both attend a family gathering.
3. Don’t pressure them to participate
Sometimes our loved ones just aren’t up for the celebration. It can even make them worse to force themselves to join. One of the best ways to be supportive is to give permission not to participate.
4. Offer alternative ways to celebrate
Instead of coming to a big gathering, offer a quiet one-on-one for your loved one with a mental illness. Agree that gifts are unnecessary if that helps, or connect in a non-holiday fashion, by simply stopping by and talking for a while.