Mental Health and the Holidays
If you’ve lived in the United States, you’ve seen a lot of subtle changes around the Winter holiday season. While some still embrace the sentiment and pageantry surrounding the celebrations, others deal with often suppressed feelings of stress, bad memories and loss.
It hasn’t always been easy to acknowledge this, but having honest conversations about what the holidays should mean can provide its own medicine for people who need it. That’s what this post is for.
Speaking for myself, I have no kids and my closest family members live 3000 miles away. Yet I’ve been able to create some important coping strategies for this time period, and have found my own version of friends and family to plug into. Ultimately, that’s what the holidays are about for me. They are also a time of hassle and headaches as well, and some of those are unavoidable. But some are. It’s that process of picking and choosing that makes all of the difference
Tip #1: Keep Away from the Commercialism
One thing that totally triggers me are the trappings of the Christmas season. Now that more and more people choose to buy their gifts online, it is probably easier to avoid the marketplace version of the holidays. But you don’t have to see the Black Friday stampede videos that seem to accompany the beginning of every single holiday season to recognize how toxic those messages can be to a person’s overall mental health. By placing the emphasis on the replaceable item versus the irreplaceable human, that version of the holidays certainly doesn’t help matters much.
And I say that as a person with a product to sell. Far be it from me to push anyone away from buying Equanimity for their loved ones, but at the end of the day, we’re a wellness lifestyle and brand, and if people are stampeding over each other to get to our product in pursuit of this messed-up vision of the holidays, then we probably haven’t done our job right.
Tip #2: Try a Booze-Free Holiday
For many years, the holidays were just a longer version of my Lost Weekend, until I gave up alcohol. For other families (thankfully not mine), alcohol has flared up many an ugly argument that has spilled over from years prior. And I can certainly believe that the political climate in our country will only make things worse.
To that, I’d recommend steering clear of the alcohol and establishing new traditions based on mindfulness and growth. Bringing calm, reflection and, yes, peace to the proceedings is probably more in line with what most spiritual traditions intend for the holidays anyway. So why not follow through with that?
Tip #3: Practice Solitude
Here in Tahoe, I have quite a few close friends to plug into, so this time period is pretty fun for me. Spending the day itself alone took some practice for me. There was a time when I definitely needed a lot of people around to fill an emotional void. Now I can find a meditative peace in the solitude. It’s a definite sea change from the way I used to enjoy the holidays, with all the buzz and stimulation. But that sort of stimulation can be its own type of drug, and post-holidays, can bring its own sort of hangover.
That was a much bigger issue for me as a kid. Decorating the tree, wrapping the presents, opening each day of the advent calendar — you better believe I believed in Santa Claus. Back in those days, we’d all go over to my grandfather’s and the rule was we had to wait until Papa finished his food before we opened our presents. That was always a pain because Papa was the slowest eater in the world, and that guy sure took his sweet time.
Over time, of course, families drift apart, and people start up their own families, and if they choose to have kids, those kids are the ones who embrace the holidays with the excitement I once felt — and struggle with the baggage that gets unpacked with the holidays decorations every year as they grow older. With a more mindful approach to the holidays, however, we can remind ourselves that it all can be changed up if it isn’t working for us the way it used to anymore. After all, we don’t need designated days to show people compassion, kindness, acts of service and gift-giving. These things can be done 365 days a year.