The holiday season bring a lot of joy, togetherness.,..and anxiety. For those of us who struggle with mental health, it can be an incredibly difficult challenge to find that balance between self care, togetherness, holiday joy, and holiday stress. For me personally, I put a pressure on myself that I have to be with loved ones the entire time I’m home, since we live in another state. The pressure to spend time with everyone often results in me feeling drained and exhausted because I don’t practice self-care, specifically having downtime for myself. Here are a few thing I try to remind myself when going home for the holidays.
1) It’s okay to say no.
The holidays are busy and yes, family time is important, but it’s okay to say no. There is a lot going on this time of year and when struggling with mental health, it can be a challenge to keep up. Say no to what you need to. No holiday parties? That’s okay. No buying gifts this year? That’s okay too. The holiday season shouldn’t be about the stress of gifts. Don’t feel bad about saying no. Although, I know this is easier said than done. It’s something I’m still working on too. Being comfortable saying no can be tricky. Whenever I say no, my anxiety pushes me into a spiral of thoughts….they think I’m anti-social, they hate me, they’re never going to invite me out again, etc. But I think the more your practice saying no, the easier it becomes.
***Pro-tip for people with family members struggling with mental health. If your loved one says no to an outing please respect their decision. It probably took a lot of courage for them to pass on the outing and stand up for their own self-care. So any more pressure to come out or join the family will probably spark their anxiety more.
2) Set boundaries with your family & yourself.
Set boundaries not only with your loved ones, but also with yourself. If you find that going to those holiday parties makes you anxious, but you want to go, agree to going to the gathering for one hour and then one hour of self-care when you get home. Set boundaries with your loved ones, so that they can respect your needs for self-care. For example, if you’re in your room with your door closed try to make your family understand that means you need time to recharge.
3) Not everyone in your family understands mental health & self-care.
This is the tricky part. Not everyone understands mental health and self-care. I tend to get frustrated with my loved ones who don’t understand because it makes self-care that much harder. But it helps teach us patience. The patience goes both ways. Those of us struggling have to be patient in helping our loved ones understand what we are going through and they have to be patient with us as we continue to work on ourselves.
4) The pressure for the perfect holiday experience is silly.
With social media the pressure for that perfect holiday experience is much more present. I found myself looking at people baking sugar cookies, decorating gingerbread houses, wrapping perfect presents, enjoying time with their picture perfect families, and I felt like I hadn’t lived the holidays to the fullest. But the pressure for the perfect holiday experience is silly. The holidays can be whatever you want to make it. Putting pressure on ourselves to do it all or to live up to someone else’s holiday expectations is not good for our mental health. The holidays aren’t always glamourous. Sometimes they’re filled with family drama, sometimes they’re filled with struggles, and whatever your holiday looks like, it’s okay.