This is it folks.
This time next week, the big man in the red suit will start making his rounds around the world, delivering treats and presents to everyone who was good this year. Kids will be leaving out milk and cookies (and maybe some carrots for the reindeer), and parents will be scrambling to wrap last minutes gifts and stock stuffers. (Ahem…I mean for the gifts that Santa won’t be bringing ;)!)
These next seven days are probably going to bring around chaos, both at work, at home, and of course stores and malls will be jammed packed with people who leave their shopping to the last possible minute. Homes will be bustling with laughter and cheer, while kitchens bubble with aromas of Christmas baked goods and preparations for large holiday feasts.
And while there is enjoyment in the chaos, these last ditch-efforts to prepare for a perfect holiday experience can be overwhelming. And if you’re like me, living with a mental illness that prevents you from processing stress on a normal-functioning level, these chaotic moments are severely overwhelming. It only takes one little thing to go wrong, or too much noise, or sensing someone else’s frustrations or tension to make me waver. It takes virtually nothing to send my brain into overdrive and suddenly I’m an anxious mess.
Now I can’t fully blame my PTSD. Most times the reason my anxiety is triggered is because I’ve done it to myself. Sometimes I tend to take on too much. I love cooking and hosting parties. I love having friends over and celebrating, but sometimes I overdo it. Sometimes I put too much pressure on myself to plan the perfect soirée. Not that my fiancé doesn’t help me, because he’s always there to jump in and help when I start sobbing over my Kitchen Aid. (Thanks handsome!) Yes, I know I take on too much, and most times I’m too stubborn to ask for help, but things eventually work themselves out and when I finally sit around drinking with my friends, I wonder why I got so stressed out in the first place.
Because sometimes the holidays can be overwhelming for people with mental health issues. Therefore, it’s important for someone like me to take extra care of my mental health during the holidays. Despite the moments of sullenness that exist during this time of the year because of my past, it’s also important to remember to take care of myself as well. The last thing I want is to swing into a depressive episode during the holidays (not that I have control over my depression anyway), but it’s always wise to be cautious – to look for warning signs and to take mental breaks from all the chaos.
Self care is important, and good mental health care is vital in getting through the holidays still intact by New Years.
So in true blogger fashion, I have complied a quick and simple list of tips that can help keep your stress and anxiety to a minimum as we head into the last inning before Christmas.
And hopefully some of these helpful hints can help you keep your holiday cheer intact!
5 Tips to Help Your Mental Health This Christmas
1. Walk in a Winter Wonderland
Now let me be clear, I’m not implying you need to go to the gym or exercise, or whatever. (Though trying to stay fit isn’t a bad thing). Christmas is the rare time of the year where people go all out in decorating their houses with beautiful light displays, or if you’re really lucky, maybe you live in a city that decorates City Hall or the local parks to help spread the holiday cheer. So why not enjoy these rare displays before they disappear for another year?
When you start to feel that black cloud of doubt wash over you, or you feel your stomach starting to swim with bubbling anxiety, go take a walk through your neighbourhood or local park. Bring your dog along, or your fiancé, or if you need some solitude time, go by yourself.
Now living in one of the snowiest cities in Newfoundland, walking outside isn’t always ideal, but if you happen to have one of those rare evenings where the wind isn’t too vicious and snow is falling gently from the sky, seize the moment and go for a small stroll. You don’t have to run or walk vigorously. I’m talking about having a quiet stroll and simply losing yourself in the glow of all those Christmas lights.
There is a serene peacefulness in the quiet of those evening walks. For me, something about the lights and the gentle falling snow that just seems to make all my problems melt away. It doesn’t have to be a long walk, just enough to help ease your heart and calm your mind.
Not only will the fresh air help, but it will hopefully help to brighten your spirits too.
2. Remember to Give Yourself Space
At some point during the holidays, you’ll likely find yourself somewhere surrounded by large groups of people. Whether its out shopping, Christmas parties, or family gatherings, you’re likely to end up in a situation where you’re jammed packed with a room full of bodies.
Sometimes these situations can become quickly overwhelming. If you have social anxiety like me, these moments put you in an uncomfortable position. Sometimes you have to force yourself to be friendly with acquaintance or coworkers, or maybe you become bombarded with family members that can push your buttons easily or who are too-overbearing. (No, Mom. I’m not talking about you.)
If you start feeling yourself becoming overwhelmed, it is important to remember to give yourself some space. Whether it’s hiding out in your old childhood bedroom, or a bathroom stall, or sneaking away to another quiet area to help collect your thoughts and get your bearings, you have to remember to not let yourself feel like you’re losing control.
You don’t need an excuse or reason, and you don’t need to justify yourself to others as to why you need a few moments to yourself. You also don’t need to feel guilty for taking a minute to centre yourself. If your lucky like me, your friends and family will understand and not ask any questions. If you have good work friends, they’ll know to only go looking for you in you’re gone too long. I’ve learned over the years that most people generally don’t get offended if you sneak away for a bit. And really, most people probably won’t notice anyway.
So remember to always keep yourself focused and calm. Take a moment when you feel overwhelmed, and just keep a cellphone handy incase you need backup.
3. Rock Around the Christmas Tree
Ok, maybe I watch too much Grey’s Anatomy.
Maybe my best friend and I channel Meredith Grey and Christina Yang too much (which reminds me, we’re due for a FaceTime dance party, BFF!<3), but there really is something to the whole “Dance it Out” bit. There’s something about blaring music and shaking your body around your living room or bedroom, that really helps dissolve all your stress away.
I’m not saying you need to have your best friend present to help you forget your woes. Maybe if you’re a little awkward like me, you prefer to dance around when no one is watching. (Man, I get embarrassed when my dog and cats see me). Whether you prefer a dancing partner or rather go solo, put on some slippery socks (a Santa hat doesn’t go astray either), turn on your favourite Christmas tunes, and you rock that Christmas tree!
Hell, it doesn’t need to be Christmas music either. If you wanna blare “Juicy Wiggle” through your speakers and dance like your nineteen years-old again going to the clubs, then do it! If it helps you forget your worries and fears for a few minutes, then dance! Get those limbs moving, get that booty shaking and remember to enjoy the moment. This is Christmas after all. You’re allowed to let yourself to be jolly.
(Need a suggestion for music? Listen to Sia’s new Christmas CD. It will really get your toes tapping!)
Worse comes to shove, the shower always makes for a great place to secretly rock out to “All I Want for Christmas is You.”
4. Make a List (and Check it Twice)
Either Santa is the most organized being on this planet or he has one hell of an office administrative team, but like the song says, “He’s making a list, he’s checkin’ it twice.” This means that you can do the same, too.
Now, I know this is where the writer in me is coming out, but writing really does help with dealing with anxiety and stress. Journaling and list-making can really combat the panic and comes with Christmas time.
I know it’s a little late to make a Christmas shopping list, but you still have time left to get organized for other things. Are you cooking for a big crowd? Make a grocery list. Have a few last-minute stocking stuffers to get? Make a list. One thing that really helps me combat my social anxiety with regard to big box stores is going in prepared. The worse thing I can do is go into a store and not really know what I’m looking for. By making lists, I’m prepared and it can keep me focused. It helps me block out the chaos of screaming customers and fretting employees.
On the flip side, if you’re a writer like me and love to write, create lists to remind yourself of the good things that happen during the day. Sure, it’s easy to get caught up in all the negative, but at the end of the day, write a list of all the things that happened during the day that you’re proud of or helped you smile. It can be as simple as getting the dishes done or getting gifts wrapped. Small accomplishments are still a big deal and it’s important to recognize them.
And if you want to get real fancy, you can always start an online blog like me and share with the world all your triumphs with helping your mental health. 😉
5. Treat Yo Self!
Ok, ok. I know. The one cardinal rule during Christmas time is to not buy gifts for yourself in case someone else has gotten you the same thing. (Right, Kass? ;)) It’s ill-advised to also go on a shopping-bender when you’re feeling low.
But when push comes to shove, there is nothing wrong with a little pick-me-up when you find the holidays are taking a toll on you. Sometimes you just need to Treat Yo Self when the black cloud over your head doesn’t seem to be passing by.
Whether it’s something as simple as buying that five-dollar peppermint mocha latte from Starbucks, or even something a little more pricey, like a trip to the hair salon or treating yourself to a mani/pedi for an upcoming Christmas party. As long as you’re not blowing hundreds of dollars (But hey, if you got the monies, have at ‘er!), or putting yourself in a sticky financial situation, then Treat Yo Self!
Because as nice as it is to spoil everyone else around you this time of the year, as sincere it is to give more than what you get, sometimes you just have to remember Number One too: You. So, you do you. You get that fancy coffee or you rock that new hairstyle! If it’s something that makes you feel better and helps spark your Christmas cheer again, go for it.
Treat yo self. You have my full permission.
At the end of the day, it’s important to remember to take care of your mental health. Sometimes through the buzz of the holidays, we put ourselves on the back burner in the attempt to help others. While it’s great to put others ahead of yourself, you also have to remember to take care of yourself too.
I was always taught that you can’t help anyone if you can’t help yourself first, and the same goes with taking care of my mental health. This time of the year, I’m extra careful of trying to keep myself on the right track, to keep myself from falling in the trap of the chaos and insanity that really only boils down for three “big” days. But while I’m cautious, I’m also constantly reminding myself to enjoy the moment. Christmas comes but once a year, so I try to enjoy it as much as I can.
So remember to take care of yourself, too. Don’t put your happiness and health at the expense of someone else’s cheer. You also deserve to enjoy the holidays as well.
Besides, if all else fails, a cup of eggnog or hot cocoa can do wonders for the spirit!
And to those with loved ones who sometimes struggle during this time of the year, don’t forget to remind them to take it slow and to help them when you can. We’re all in this together after all, and the holidays are about the ones we love, not the gifts under the tree. That’s what Christmas is all about, right?
So take care of each other, and may your days be merry and bright.
And as always,
Fight the good fight.