We have talked about mental health during the holidays several times on this website, including what the holiday blues are, how addiction is impacted on mental health, and how loved ones can help those with mental illness during this season. But we wanted to identify in this article 9 ways Christians can manage mental health over the holidays to help you and your family during this winter season.
Holidays can be hard for many people with mental illness and substance misuse. It’s a reminder of how things are different now, of relationships that have been broken and still are not repaired, of losses and broken promises that lead to deeper regrets and trauma, as well as the worry of not having hope. This feels contrary to the season of thanksgiving and hope from the manager, making the dialectic all the greater and the conflict, whether internal or external, more chaotic.
To help combat these experiences, we want to share nine things you can do this season to help navigate and even enjoy these holidays.
- If you are in treatment with counseling or medication, continue it.
As a licensed professional counselor having served in several locations, a common challenge during the holidays are cancellations and no shows during the holidays. So even though people are struggling more than normal due to the time of the year, they are not receiving the services needed. Family, pastors, and others can offer to help with organizing appointments and schedules as well as possibly transport or babysit during this time to help the individual with mental illness.
- Keep your routine, especially when it comes to self-care.
One of the biggest disruptions to mental health treatment is when routine is changed. Whether it is more vacation time off, not having children in school, going to family functions that might be hours away from home, or not being able to access all normal resources. This disruption can lead to missed appointments, not being compliant with psychiatric medication, not doing self-care and spiritual routines like taking time to pray or have proper hygiene. Even if you go take a shower, get dressed for the day, take your medications s as prescribed, eat breakfast, and brush your teeth to get back in bed with your children to watch television, do it. This routine allows us to continue to be successful within the holidays and after.
- Keep talking to your supports.
This disruption in routine may mean that you do not get to meet with your church’s small group for a month, you won’t be able to get coffee with your sponsor to talk about your addiction, or you do not get date nights or nights out with friends for awhile. Keep in contact with them. Visiting with family may overall be a positive thing, but it can be stressful for anyone and with a mental illness, you may find yourself wanting to isolate or breakdown. Whether you are texting them before Thanksgiving meal, talking with them on the phone when everyone else is watching football, or video chatting when it’s appropriate, keep up with these relationships. They are a support and cannot be neglected. And keep up with your church family as your spiritual life cannot go by the wayside.
- Not everyone needs to know.
I shared this on a previous article about mental health during the holidays, but it needs repeating. While we do encourage you to have at least one person know what’s going on with you at the party, it might be unwise for you to share it with everyone. Some friends and family may just be meeting up with you for the first time in months or years. Boundaries of self-confidentiality are important. Sometimes people won’t understand, have different cultural and ethical expectations, or are not good at respecting your boundaries. You may not share as much or any information with these people… and that’s okay.
- Get outdoors for some Vitamin D.
It’s cold outside and in many parts of the world, it’s snowy or wet and gross. The reasons to go out are minimal. Even where we are, it’s cloudy 90% of the time. But we know sunlight gives us Vitamin D, even when it is cloudy. “When your skin is exposed to sunlight, it makes vitamin D from cholesterol. The sun’s ultraviolet B (UVB) rays hit cholesterol in the skin cells, providing the energy for vitamin D synthesis to occur. Vitamin D has many roles in the body and is essential for optimal health” (Healthline.com)
- Be mindful.
The point of Christmas is to remember the reason for the season. So when I say mindfulness, I do not only mean the coping skill which helps reduce anxiety, depression, trauma, and substance use problems. It has a deep spiritual purpose too which is very effective for the holiday season. Focus on the present, on the memories you are creating now, on the smell of the turkey and the joy of your kids and spouse. Allow yourself to NOT go back to work in your head or the frustrations of your past which you cannot change. Be present and sit in gratitude.
- Give and serve
The holidays in the United States has become very commercialized with wanting stuff, expecting presents, and selfishness and pride. Consider to add a time for service, compassion, giving, and selflessness into your holiday. If you already have, how can you expand it to do more. Go serve at a food bank, invite neighbors to make cookies and go to church, share the Gospel and hope of Christ, and pray without ceasing for yourself and others. These acts of generosity have deep spiritual and emotional benefits
- Don’t over commit.
Many times we over commit to “making this the best Christmas ever,” get too many presents, or expect to feel completely refreshed after eight months of running ragged. Some people hope to “catch up on their sleep” or start new routines with the vacations. The list grows and grows, but is unrealistic. Remember why you are doing what you are doing and be reasonable with yourself.
- Remember God loves you for where you are.
I save this for last, but honestly, it’s the most important. Some may experience negative feelings over not being at a place they feel they “should be” in life or struggling with anything and everything in the list above. If nothing else, God loves you right where you are at because you are His child. You did nothing to earn that and nothing can take that away. Hold tightly to this hope and do not let it go.
What other tips would you add or what would you expand up in the list above? Share in the comments below.