Managing your mental health and stress during the holidays
Christmas is often branded as a time of joy, but what do you do when it’s not the most wonderful time of the year?
The conclusion of Halloween usually cues the setup of Christmas lights and the start of holiday sales and peppermint-flavoured everything — all somehow perfectly timed with the first snowfall. The atmosphere suddenly takes a joyful turn and you find yourself surrounded by seas of green and red.
The holiday season has been branded as a happy and fun time since the beginning. While most people look forward to this time of year, others may find that “holiday blues” play a more prominent role. Instead of the excitement around Christmas, the stretch between November to December can easily be identified as a limbo state complete with shorter days and gloomy weather.
As a result, individuals may feel stressed and isolated, which is true for more than fifty per cent of Canadians according to a recent survey by the Canadian Mental Health Association. These feelings can easily evolve into serious issues such as depression, anxiety and even physical illnesses.
And when speaking about individuals already living with mental illnesses, it was found that 64 per cent of them experience worsening symptoms during the holidays. That’s a lot for such a holly jolly time.
For folks that look forward to the holidays each year, these statistics may seem rather confusing. Yes, the days are shorter and the weather sometimes sucks but what about the Christmas lights, the holiday spirit and the chance to spend time with family and friends? These are the very things that can actually cause mental illnesses to worsen.
A common source of stress and anxiety is the constant pressure to be happy. People rely on the holiday season to take their worries away and offer a time of bliss and when that doesn’t happen, disappointment and stress take over. It’s okay to not be excited during the holidays but being surrounded by the “holiday spirit” can be stigmatizing when you don’t feel the same as others.
It’s not very hard to get caught up in consumerism and the commercial aspect of the holidays, and for individuals and families struggling, it can take money away from essential items. The pressure and social expectations to participate in gift-giving, don’t help either.
So what exactly can we do to keep our mental health in check during the holidays?
Though I won’t tell you to “just not be sad,” there are definitely things that can be done to help individuals take care of their personal needs. Small affirmations such as recognizing that you don’t need to force yourself to celebrate and be happy and finding things to do that bring you comfort and familiarity can help.
In addition to things that individuals can do, it’s also important for communities to promote environments that are inclusive to people experiencing mental health issues. This can include continuing non-holiday related activities instead of replacing them, emphasizing the act of giving instead of physical presents, and removing the stigma of sitting out of holiday activities.
Various clubs at McMaster including the MSU Maroons, MSU Diversity & Equity Network offer both holiday and non-holiday-related events that are open for all McMaster University students to join. These can be a good opportunity to find like-minded individuals and an inclusive space to express yourself.
It’s incredibly important to take care of yourself and if that means taking a step back from the holidays, so be it.