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As we enter the final two months of the year, many of us will be looking ahead to upcoming celebrations, festivities, and a chance to spend quality time with those we hold dear.
Whether you’re celebrating religious holidays, seasonal holidays, cultural holidays, personal holidays, or no holidays at all – one thing remains a constant; looking after our mental health.
Ahead of the upcoming festive months, I thought it’d be worth collating a few ideas on why the holidays can be a challenge for some, to help us always remember to approach with empathy and a few ways to protect our mental health during this busy time.
Why Can the Holiday Season Be a Challenge?
While the holiday season is a joyous time for many people, it can be a time of conflicting emotions, memories, and trauma.
Research has highlighted that the holidays present a uniquely stressful time for most people and that the impact of this stress is experienced differently from any other time of the year. Researchers believe this may be down to the additional pressures people feel to be in a good mood and create a ‘perfect’ holiday experience for their families.
There’s also what researchers refer to as the ‘holiday blues.’
For some, it may be a time that reminds them of fraught relationships and unresolved conflicts as they know they’ll have to spend time with individuals they may otherwise avoid. It can also be a reminder of estranged parents or relatives and bring up difficult memories from childhood.
For others, certain cultural holidays can be painful reminders of how their people, traditions, and culture have been treated historically and the ways they continue to be marginalized.
Across some migrant communities, the holiday season may remind them of family and loved ones they’re separated from, or they may not have the space and freedom to celebrate their own cultural, holy, or festival days in the ways they would traditionally like to.
The holiday season brings many people together and is considered a time of celebration, but it’s worth remembering that it can also be a time of loss, grief, and introspection for many other people.
7 Ways to Practice Emotional Safety & Protect Our Mental Health During the Holidays
With lots of expectations to ‘bury the hatchet’ and unite during festive celebrations, people can feel judged, shamed, or guilted into things they might not necessarily like to do. This can lead to a lapse in personal boundaries and increased feelings of anxiety or depression.
Looking after our mental health during this time is not without its challenges, but there are some things we can do:
- Prepare yourself: When facing stressful experiences, it can feel easy to put off thinking about it, but this can lead to a spike in anxious feelings. Spend some time thinking and reflecting on what may come up that could cause you stress or anxiety. Start preparing yourself mentally in advance so you feel more capable when the situations arise.
- Reaffirm boundaries: This goes hand in hand with preparing yourself. Reflect on what your boundaries are around social events, family, and work-related events. If you’re unsure what these might look like, now is time to consider what you want. For example, certain family events may always leave you stressed, uncomfortable, or feeling worse about yourself. A boundary might be that you don’t attend this year, and you can start planning to keep this boundary in place, what you will say and how to handle your family’s response.
- Focus on a healthy support network: Think about who you have in your life that is a positive presence, and be sure to invest appropriate time with these people. Let them know if you find the holiday season a challenge and how they can help. This is especially important if you know that stressful occasions lead you to isolate. A strong support network is crucial for maintaining robust emotional and mental health.
- Remember what keeps you healthy: Make a list of all the good things that help you feel positive, healthy, and resilient during times of high stress. These could be diet and exercise, spending time in nature, hobbies, or personal self-care preferences. Block out time in your calendar to commit to these things and ensure you keep refilling your resilience pot.
- Find a buddy: The stress and anxiety of facing the season can lead some to lean on unhealthy coping strategies. If any form of addiction has been a way you’ve previously coped with the season or stress in general, it’s worth finding a buddy who knows what you’re going through and who can help support you to refocus on healthy ways of working through things.
- Have a digital detox: There’s a lot of triggering content online during this season, especially for those still working through or processing traumatic experiences and memories in relation to the holidays. There’s nothing wrong with taking a break from it all and giving yourself time and space to build up some resilience. A digital detox can include signing out or steering away from social media, turning off the TV during commercial breaks, and generally giving yourself a break from living online.
- Speak with a therapist: You’re never alone when going through any kind of experience that causes stress, anxiety, or a dip in your emotional and mental health. Therapists are here to help you through these challenges and can help you prepare and plan to get through the holiday season in healthy ways. Don’t wait to reach out if you know the holidays are a challenge. The sooner you seek the right support for you, the better.
Looking Ahead as Therapists
It’s not just about our clients and how we help them – we also need to remember to help ourselves.
As therapists, too, we need to remember that this season can take its toll – and the more we take the time to prepare and protect our mental health, the more supportive we can be to our clients.
Remembering the nuances that exist during these times can help us remain empathetic, open, and willing to care for others in the ways they need, without judgment or expectations.
When we meet people where they need to be met, I believe everyone can find a little joy and respite – no matter how small – during the busiest season of the year.
I’m Cecilia Racine, and I teach therapists how to help immigrants through my online courses. As a bilingual immigrant myself, I know the unique perspective that these clients are experiencing. I’ve conducted over 500 evaluations and work with dozens of lawyers in various states. Immigrants are my passion, I believe they add to the fabric of our country.
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