Like most, the ebb and flow of life has picked up acceleration. I purged a home that I lived in for 22 years, moved to a new home and am trying to maintain status quo with work. As well planning the new year classes, events and menu updates and adding extra social events, extra spending, it’s a time of year that can really challenge our mental health.
I reached out to a local compassionate therapist, Kim Brown-Morris who holds a Master’s degree is Social Work. Kim shares this time of year can be viewed with powerful possibilities.
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“It is an opportunity to practice better self-care, positive self-talk and healthy and happy activities that fill your soul. We can start new traditions, change negative and harmful relationships and to re-focus on what and who we need in our own lives, in order to be our best selves. This is not a complete re-boot of who we are and how we are living our lives, but perhaps is a stepping stone for us to take the first baby-step towards regained fulfillment and happiness,” says Brown-Morris.
Here are some tips from my Q&A with this amazing, mindful woman.
Why is mental health at the holiday season altered or challenged?
A person’s mental health can be challenged this time of year because of the following:
a. Increased pressure to participate in the nostalgic traditional commercialized Christmas that many of us have done for years. This can include decorating not only the inside but also the outside of your home, increased activities and responsibilities, gathering with family and friends we only see a couple of times each year often resulting in increased emotional investments, shopping and overspending. Did you know the average Canadian family will spend approximately $1,810 on travel and gift giving, as per reported by the Globe & Mail, May 11, 2018?
b. Leaving all the Christmas preparations until the last minute, which may be because of time constraints or money challenges.
c. Making poorer choices when it comes to meals and snacks, gambling, alcohol consumption or recreational drug use.
What are the key shifts common in mental health during the holidays?
Because of increased pressure at this time of year, it is not uncommon for those struggling with their mental health to feel increasingly challenged to stay mentally and physically healthy. This can result in increased anxiety and depression or even psychosis. Isolation, irritability as well as insomnia are changes that can occur in one’s mental health during the holidays.
What can we do to keep ourselves better aligned?
Breathe! Breathe! Breathe! Sometimes we may need to step outside in the coolness or go to the bathroom and wash your hand in cold water, to help bring you back to a mindset where you can handle whatever emotions you are feeling. Another important part of finding balance in the holidays is to pace yourself, whether that means trying to be mindful of your meal, snack and sugar choices or limiting your alcohol consumption. By overdoing anything to the point of excess can leave you feeling guilty and regret, which is an emotional response you do not need especially at this time of year.
What are some holiday stress management techniques?
Avoid hot button topics, such as politics and religion and recognize people are who they are. No one is going to change just because it’s the holidays. This is especially important when you have someone in your family who is the Scrooge, someone else who always overspends, even when you ask them not to as well as someone who may be negative or always living in chaos and would love to have you join them in their drama. Try to limit your interactions with those who cause you to feel increased stress and when you do spend time with that person, try to minimize the emotional impact they can have on your life.
Thoughts on depression and anxiety this time of year?
It is also important to recognize when we identify others as being so much happier than we are, that this may not actually be the truth. Everyone is dealing with their stressors in their own way, and we may not know how happy others truly are. It is important to consider whether these feelings of depression are situational and may pass once the holidays are over, or are they associated with Seasonal Affective Disorder. Medical advice from your doctor may be beneficial. If your sadness becomes extreme or if you begin having feelings of harming yourself, call 911 immediately! Reach out and know that no one needs to suffer alone.
Regarding anxiety, the thought of facing friends or family members that we only see a couple times each year, or the thought of completing the endless to-do-list, or the financial burden that Christmas can bring, may provoke episode of increased anxiety. We often have increased expectations on ourselves and others, but a proven anxiety reliever is to find a quiet place to just breathe! By simply inhaling and exhaling slowly, you can help your body and mind to settle down and reduce your feelings of being anxious. Other anxiety strategies include holding a melting piece of ice or washing your face in cool water. This will help you become grounded which will assist with your feelings of losing control and being helpless.
Can the holiday season trigger traumas of the past?
The holiday season can be a time of reflection and memories, not all of which are happy and healthy. When memories of a traumatic past happen, often shame is an emotion that can accompany those times when physical, mental, spiritual, financial or emotional abuse has occurred. These feelings can be compounded if during the holidays you are exposed to the person or people that inflicted the pain on you. Of importance is to try not to numb those emotions, and cope in unhealthy and self-harming ways. Promises Treatment Center suggests trying to stay mindful of your traumatic injuries which will help you take better care of yourself and not sabotage your own well-being. It is also important to limit your exposure to those traumatic situations.
What to do with loneliness?
Social isolation can occur when one’s circle of support is small, or if there is a lack of social opportunities available. For others, some may choose to avoid social gatherings which may make them feel increased loneliness and isolation. Try to reach out to family and friends, community supports such as the local Senior Centre, the Legion or local churches.
Adverse mental health symptoms and what to do?
If you or a loved one starts to display a period of unusual behaviour including increased sadness, irritability, prolonged insomnia or demonstrate thought patterns that are unusual or just “off”, this may be an opportunity to reach out, request help or offer assistance. The CMHA office has walk-in hours at TDMH, there are CRISIS phone numbers and INARA Counselling is also here to help!
If you are interested in connecting with Kim Brown-Morris visit her website at https://inaracounselling.wordpress.com/services/ or call 519-688-1188.
(Happy Healthy YOU is a wellness column by Kelly Spencer: writer, life coach, yoga & meditation teacher, holistic healer and a mindful life enthusiast! If you would like to see an article on a specific topic, please email email@example.com).