Be mindful of mental health during the holidays

Published 6:22 pm Friday, December 17, 2021

The holiday season can be a stressful time, for a multitude of reasons.

At times it can feel like you’re being pulled in 20 different directions at once, trying to juggle regular obligations and extra get-togethers, all while trying to find the perfect gift or cook food for an army of people or complete your usual seasonal traditions.

Traditions, especially, are a great way to bring people together. It’s a way to share in something fun as a group, and there’s just something comforting about following a tradition that may have been passed down for years, or even decades.

But the ongoing pandemic has definitely added a lot of extra stress to the holidays. Even now that we’re inching back towards some semblance of “normal,” there is still some difficulty in getting back to the usual routine. Traditions that were shaken up last year might still look different this year too.

I believe it’s especially crucial to take care of ourselves and each other amidst the stress of the holiday season, and one of my own personal traditions now is writing this column to share information about suicide prevention, coping with loss, and other ways to take care of our mental health.

Even though holidays are supposed to be a happy time, they can also be difficult for many people to get through. For some, holiday celebrations morph into mourning a loss or dealing with not being able to be near family and friends. For others, this time of year may be a tough reminder of estranged or broken family relationships. And people living with depression and anxiety may find their mental health suffering more than usual, especially when society is constantly reminding us that it’s “the most wonderful time of the year.”

Many people can be suffering, but they won’t always try to reach out for help and support. Some may even try to hide it, leading to conditions like depression or substance abuse going undiagnosed and untreated. So firstly, here are some red flag warnings signs to be on the lookout for, courtesy of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) website:

A sudden change in behavior can be one of the biggest warning signs that a person’s mental health has plummeted to the most dangerous levels, especially after a painful event, loss, or change. There can be mood swings, changes in sleep patterns, increasingly negative speech, isolation from family and friends, talking about feeling hopeless, and more.

But even if there aren’t obvious warning signs, it’s always a good idea to reach out to friends and family, and make sure you’re having open and honest conversations about mental health.

If you find that someone is at risk, AFSP has information on how to handle that as well. Talk to the person in private where you’ll both feel more comfortable. Be open and honest. Focus on listening to them. Be reassuring. Offer support. Avoid minimizing their problems or giving advice. Encourage them to seek treatment. You can even point them in the right direction for treatment as well, since it can be pretty overwhelming to navigate anything health-related alone these days.

If the situation is more serious than just talk, then stay with the person until you can get them to professional help. Remove anything lethal they may have access to. And reach out to emergency resources like the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255) or text TALK to 741741. Trained counselors are available at any time every day of the year.

Trillium Health Resources is a local provider that can also help connect people to the mental health support they may need. Their website, as well as the Integrated Family Services website, offers ways to get help during a crisis.

The AFSP website also has a multitude of resources for people who are learning how to navigate the loss of a loved one. Holidays, of course, can make it even more difficult to cope.

There’s no “right” or “wrong” way to spend the holidays, so it’s best to do what’s best for yourself. That means it’s okay if you find comfort in carrying on a tradition without a loved one who usually participates, and it’s okay if you feel like you need a break (temporary or permanently) from the tradition instead. Perhaps you can even start a new tradition.

AFSP also suggests communicating your needs with friends and family in advance, so that they can be prepared to offer whatever support you may need. And it’s definitely okay to take a break from a get-together if necessary, especially if you feel like you’re having a harder time than expected.

They also suggest other potentially helpful actions such as traveling to get a change of scenery or volunteering locally in honor of a loved one. But overall, it’s important to take care of yourself and prioritize your mental health.

“Do the best you can, and remember that healing takes time, and the experience is different for everyone,” the website says. “How you feel this year may not be how you feel in future years – take it one occasion at a time.”

I hope these resources can be helpful for anyone reading this column, no matter what situation we find ourselves in as the holidays approach. And even when the holiday season is over, I hope we continue to take care of our mental health and offer support to others throughout the rest of the year.

Life isn’t always easy, but we’re all in this together.

Holly Taylor is a Staff Writer for Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact her at holly.taylor@r-cnews.com or 252-332-7206.