The holiday season often presents a dizzying array of demands – from cooking meals and cleaning to shopping and entertaining family and friends. These demands may bring unwelcome guests – stress, depression, and other mental health issues. As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, we may feel stressed, sad, or anxious because our holiday plans may look different than previous years and because we are worrying about everyone’s health.
In the US, the holiday season begins in November and lasts until the start of the new year. A National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI) study found that 64% of people with mental illness report that the holidays make their conditions worse. People with and without mental health conditions may experience mental health symptoms during this time. These symptoms may include changes in eating and sleeping habits, irritability and fatigue, lethargy, feeling anxiety, and having trouble concentrating. There are several reasons why this may happen: memories of loved ones who have passed away, unrealistic or unattainable expectations, financial difficulties, isolation or loneliness, and feeling overwhelmed or stressed. These reasons may be amplified during the pandemic.
When emotions are at their peak, it may be difficult to stop and regroup. However, there are simple steps that people with and without disabilities can take to reduce stress and maintain good mental health during the holiday season. Here are some examples:
- Take steps to stay safe. This includes simple steps like washing your hands, wearing a mask in public spaces, eating healthy, and making time to unwind and connect with others. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offers strategies for a health and safe holiday season, as well as information related to safer ways to celebrate the holidays during the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Accept your needs. Put your own and mental and physical wellbeing first. Recognize what your triggers are to help you prepare for stressful situations.
- Manage your time. Prioritizing your time and activities may help you use your time well. It is ok to say no to plans that don’t fit into your schedule or make you feel good.
- Set boundaries. Family dynamics may be complex. Acknowledge them and accept that you can only control your role.
- Set aside time for yourself and prioritize selfcare. Schedule time for activities that make you feel good, such as reading a book, going to the movies, or listening to music. NAMI California has a Selfcare Guide to get started.
The NIDILRR community continues to research and develop interventions, technology, and other methods to help people with and without psychiatric and other disabilities to maintain their mental health during the holidays and throughout the year. For example, the Temple University Rehabilitation Research and Training Center (RRTC) on Community Living and Participation of People with Serious Mental Illness (TU Collaborative) has developed a library of resources on a variety of topics for people with mental illness, their families, and friends, including a guide to family leisure planning during the pandemic. The TU Collaborative works with the National Mental Health Consumers’ Self-Help Clearinghouse, a peer-run national technical assistance and resource center that fosters recovery, self-determination, and community inclusion for people with lived experience of a mental health condition, family members, and the public. If you or someone you know is in crisis, contact the NAMI Crisis Helpline at 800/950-6264 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. You may also contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration by calling their national hotline at 800/662-4357.