Without a doubt, holidays can bring the best of joy but for some, the recall of loss or bad memories.
There are many who wish to help those who struggle during these times.
“As we approach the holiday season, many of us are looking forward to celebrations and interacting with friends and loved ones. Even as we celebrate, it is very common to feel added stress,” shared Cynthia Morrow, the health director of Roanoke City and Alleghany Health Districts. “The “holiday blues” can stem from a variety of sources: current events, personal grief, loneliness, illness, financial concerns, relationship issues, even a lack of sunlight. Stress from the holiday blues can worsen symptoms of a mental health condition, such as depression, anxiety, or a substance use disorder.”
Therefore, Morrow has written a few helpful hints:
- One place to start managing stress is to manage expectations for the season. If you feel a disconnect emerge between your actual situation and a fantasy version of the holidays, keep an open mind about what the holidays are meant to represent, and consider focusing on what makes you feel grateful in the present moment. Studies have shown that feelings of gratitude, even for small things such as sunshine, a hug, or a warm bath, can reduce the risk of depression and increase feelings of well-being.
- Being constantly on the go can leave you feeling exhausted. Accept your limitations, manage your time and don’t be afraid to say no to plans that don’t fit into your schedule. Recognize that you are in control of your expectations and reactions, and that you can decide when to take a break from the busy season, with music, exercise, a hobby, or whatever else feels right for you.
- The holiday season can amplify feelings of loneliness, especially if friends or family live far away. Joining with others through avenues such as volunteering can help kindle feelings of connection in your community.
- Acknowledge feelings of loss or grief, especially if they are recent, while trying to focus on celebrating happy memories, or creating new memories. Gently remind yourself that as circumstances change, traditions will change as well.
- With dinners, parties, and cookie trays at every turn, our eating habits are challenged during the holiday season. Eating a healthy diet through it all with plenty of whole grains, vegetables, and fresh fruit can help keep you on track.
- Try to get as much sunlight as possible.
- Eating and sleeping well can also help stabilize your mood. Avoid alcohol and drugs- it is a myth that they reduce stress; in fact, they often worsen it.
“If you’re feeling overwhelmed, find support,” she added. “Whether with friends, family, a counselor, or a support group, talking can help. The 988 Lifeline provides 24/7, free and confidential support for people in distress by talk or text, and prevention and crisis resources for you or your loved ones.”
She also shared that understanding that you are not alone may help to put things in perspective and help you to move to a place of acceptance.
On an ongoing basis, the Roanoke chapter of the National Alliance of Mental Illness facilitates a monthly virtual peer support group on the first Mondays (https://www.namiroanokevalley.us/). Also, the Adult Care Center of Roanoke offers a monthly caregiver support group.
“Whether you feel excited, happy, anxious, or stressed about the coming holiday season- or a combination of them all- please know that you are not alone,” said Morrow, “By taking small actions each day, you can make your mental wellbeing a priority.”