By Olivia Bayuk RN, American Red Cross Volunteer
As I look out my window in Post Falls, Idaho, at the snow slowly piling up on trees and roadways, I realize, with a start, that we have once again reached that time of year — the time of snow, sledding, decorations, presents, family, and travel. For many people, it is a joyous season, as they look forward to the colors, the music, the anticipation of Christmas morning, and the promise of visits from acquaintances old and new.
Other people look ahead to this time of year with dread. And while some may prefer to label this group as “Scrooges,” it is completely understandable to view the holiday season as stressful.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 21% of adults (1 in 5) experience mental illness daily and 64% of people with mental illness experience a worsening in their condition over the holidays. Even people who do not have a diagnosed mental illness can struggle during the winter months. This could all be for a variety of reasons:
- Financial stress
- Worsening weather conditions
- Family relationships
- Substance abuse triggers
- Missing loved ones who have passed away or moved away
- The expectation of having a perfect life
- The demand of cooking, cleaning, and decorating
- The push to spend money on lavish gifts.
Many different health organizations including the American Red Cross, Harbor Mental Health, Mayo Clinic, UC Health, and Cedars-Sinai recommend implementing several different strategies to combat this overwhelming sense of dread and turn this year into one to remember:
- Stick to a budget
- Lay ground rules at family gatherings
- Plan well in advance
- Take a breather and a time out for yourself when needed
- Keep up with good habits: exercise, healthy eating, vitamins
- Avoid alcohol and drugs
- Reach out to family, friends, and any other support personnel
- Take the time to recognize those you have lost
- Be honest
- Ask for help
- Focus on what you can control
- Set limits on decorating, cooking, gift buying, and family visiting time
- Say no
I spoke with Daniel Mosley, an American Red Cross Disaster Mental Health volunteer for King County and the Northwest Region. He referenced the importance of recognizing triggers throughout the holidays and reframing the negative thoughts as they arise.
He also spoke of finding the joy in the small moments, in the small traditions: “What do your traditions mean to you? Do not let them become rote. And maybe even add new traditions.”
One recommendation that Daniel Mosley offered was to be mindful and thoughtful throughout the holidays. For example, if you hike out to find your own tree, take a moment to breathe in the cold air, the green leaves, and the soft falling snow. If you bake pies and cookies, stop to take in the soothing smells. If you have to go out to run errands, look around for the glittering lights.
And if you have kids, grandkids, or nieces and nephews: stop, and listen for the laughter. For as Charles Dickens wrote in his famous Christmas Carol: “There is nothing in the world so irresistibly contagious as laughter and good humor.”