Managing Mental Health During The Holidays // Femme De Bloom

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The FemmeDeBloom Field Guide for
 Managing Mental Health During the Holidays

Hello everyone! FemmeDeBloom a.k.a. Melanie is back for another guest blog post! I wanted to use this time to talk about the holidays because I personally have a weird love-hate relationship with this time of year. As many of you know, I love themes and putting together cute outfits for different holidays & the winter season is no exception. However, I often also find myself struggling during this time of year because it can also be extremely overwhelming. As a psychologist, I also find that many of my clients experience an increase in anxiety & difficulties with mood changes for a multitude of reasons during this time of year.
So why are we more stressed when it is supposed to be a fun, celebratory time of the year? Turns out, there are TONS of reasons.  Symptoms of depression including sadness, low energy, difficulties concentrating, appetite changes, etc. can worsen when there are shorter days and longer nights. Reduced amount of daylight can trigger the “winter blues” in many individuals. In addition, I think a lot of people experience stress during the holidays related to finances, social pressure, family conflict, & grief.  It can also be difficult for people who do not celebrate the mainstream holidays because marketing for them is EVERYWHERE and it can make a person feel left out. Which, in my opinion, is the opposite of what holidays and celebrations are meant for.
The following is a list of suggestions I have put together to help with maintaining your mental and emotional health during this season, no matter what holidays you celebrate. I hope they are helpful!
1)   Know Your Limits
The term “self-care” is often used in my field as an important part of maintaining emotional health. While I agree that caring for oneself is important, I think many people only consider self-care as “treating yourself.” Don’t get me wrong, I wholly support treating yourself to all the good things in life that you enjoy (#treatyoself I LOVE YOU PARKS AND RECREATION). But I want to expand the idea of self-care beyond just getting a massage or buying that one indulgent item you’ve been eyeing forever. Self-care is also knowing what you need (and what you don’t need) to function. This may mean saying “no” more often, knowing how much sleep you need per night, and not overextending yourself. I used to think that just because an opportunity to do something presented itself, I needed to take it. This just led me to feel exhausted and depleted. Knowing what works for you is important. Just remember that when you do set your limits, you might be judged or shamed for it at times and it may be uncomfortable. But that discomfort is worth it in the end. I give you all permission to SAY NO when you need to and set your own expectations for yourself! Get that 8 hours of sleep & don’t pick that friend up from the airport if you don’t have the time or energy. They will survive =P

2)   Opposite Action
The “opposite action” skill is one that I teach to my clients in therapy as a method of changing emotion when it is necessary and it not helpful. This skill is from a therapeutic modality I use called Dialectical Behavior Therapy, created by Marsha Linehan. When you’re feeling sad, low, “meh,” angry, scared etc. sometimes you just need to feel the feeling, listen to what it’s telling you and process it, let it pass, or allow it to move you to act. However, sometimes you can find yourself “stuck” in a feeling that doesn’t necessarily “fit the facts” (e.g. it may not fit the facts if it is based on an assumption, interpretation, or on a threat that isn’t real). In this case, using opposite action can be a way to transform an unhelpful emotion. So, in the case of sadness your approach may be to isolate or avoid others/what is bothering you. Instead of feeding into the sadness by isolating, find a way to approach others, seek comfort, or face the sadness and process it. If you’re angry, you may want to lash out or verbally attack others and push them away. An opposite action could be doing something nice for someone else or trying to put yourself in another person’s shoes.  This is not only a skill that is helpful during a stressful holiday season, but all year round! For more info on this skill check out this link.

3)   Don't believe everything you see on Instagram
Or Snapchat, Facebook, Twitter or whatever the kids are using these days for social media! While I love & appreciate social media for many reasons, I also know that half of what we see is a lie or just a small part of the whole picture. We tend to post whatever we want others to see (hence the existence of filters, photo editing apps & the phrase "do it for the gram") or what we think people want to see.  There are tons of fun photo opportunities during the holidays, so I am not saying we shouldn't post at all. However, I think it’s important to remind ourselves to not make assumptions based on photos we see (e.g. "everyone is having fun and I'm not"; "everyone's life is so much better than mine", etc. etc.) and to not measure our own self-worth/the quality of our experiences in comparison with what we see on social media. If you're already feeling like crap and you go on social media to see everyone else posting pictures of themselves having fun, you're going to start thinking you're the only one who feels the way you do because you compare your inner experience to everyone's external experience. Excessive time on social media is actually liked to feelings of loneliness. So, before you start believing everything you see, remember that the person who posted the cutest photo of hot chocolate at a quaint café probably spent more time getting the right photo and editing it rather than enjoying the hot chocolate. Also, the amount of people who "like" what you're doing does not equal APPROVAL or validation of what you're doing! Get of the gram and enjoy life and make connections with others during this time of year!

4)    Don't "should" all over yourself
This little pun is something I say to myself when I recognize that I am putting too high of expectations on myself. There are a lot of fun traditions to engage in during the holidays lots of opportunities to give gifts, and to socialize. Just because these exist, does not mean you SHOULD enjoy them or should have to partake in all of them.  If you don't enjoy something (e.g. giving or getting gifts, shopping, Christmas music, ugly sweater parties, white elephant gift exchanges, work holiday parties), it’s O.K. Telling yourself you "should" or "shouldn't" be doing or feeling a certain way only compounds your distress and creates shame/guilt. Don't "should" yourself into spending money you don't have or going to parties you don't want attend. You are who you are, and you feel how you feel. Cliché, I know, but it's all valid! The holidays can also involve socializing with family/friends you don't see often. Remember that we don't owe anyone an explanation for what we are doing with our lives. We don't also have an obligation to update everyone on what we are up to. You have the option to choose how you respond and how much information you provide. So when Great Aunt Ruth asks you why you aren’t married or don’t have kids yet, you have permission to walk away or better yet ask her why she doesn’t have any new questions to ask you. Ha!

5)    Adopt a spirit of flexibility
Sometimes we feel the pressure during holidays for everything to go perfectly. We may want to find the perfect gifts for others, plan the perfect party or stick to the same traditions as previous years. Unfortunately, perfection is not an achievable goal. You cannot make everyone happy and people & families change and grow, which means that traditions and rituals can often change as well. People will sometimes disappoint you and certain experiences may not be as exciting as you thought they would be. Also, sometimes, no MOST of the time, things do not go according to plan. The more flexible you can be psychologically the better. This is not to say that you should assume the absolute worst will happen because you don't want to create a self-fulfilling prophecy. Just try to manage your expectations for yourself, others and situations and be open to new experiences.

6)   Seek Support
Not everyone loves the holidays and so many people are struggling more than you realize. Do not be afraid to reach other to others or seek professional help if you need it. One of the most powerful ways to build resilience and facilitate healing is through human connection. Sometimes, just venting to someone who validates your experience can transform your entire mood.

Here are some helpful resources!

For Group Therapy:
Group Therapy in the UK

National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)
5 Things to Do When the Holidays Aren't Exactly Uplifting

Crisis Support:
Suicide Prevention Hotline
Helpline Center
International Suicide Hotline Directory

I hope these suggestions were helpful! I would love to hear some of your survival strategies for the holiday season! Thanks for reading!
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