Maintaining mental health over the holidays can be a real challenge for teens and young adults with mental illness. With 64% of mentally ill people finding holidays stressful, according to a study by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), it is important to find ways to stay healthy during the holidays. So read on for holiday mental health tips.
Holiday Mental Health Overload
For years our family bought into society’s version of the holidays. We shopped, visited extensively, attended events, and joined gatherings. My children with mental illness hated every moment of it. It was stressful for them, threw them off their routines, and introduced chaos, fatigue, and unhealthy busyness into our lives. The result was that their mental health would deteriorate, they would experience major meltdowns, they would become emotionally and even physically ill, and it would take weeks for us to recover our equilibrium.
Yet, we didn’t want to disappoint our extended family, so we continued. And we continued to hate the holidays. Then one day, after a particularly awful dinner with relatives, my teens asked why we were doing this.
And I couldn’t find one good reason.
Holiday Mental Health Planning
As a family, we discussed our typical holiday agenda and why it was stressful. We pulled apart each event. What parts of it worked? What parts triggered emotional meltdowns and why?
As we talked, I pushed my teens to analyze their own stressors and reactions. I encouraged them to look at themselves without judgment and just see what set them off and what would feel good about holiday celebrations.
Soon, we had a solid idea of what added and what took away from the stability of my children’s mental health over the holiday season.
Example of a Holiday Mental Health Plan
After our discussion, my teens presented their vision of a healthy holiday. They listed the things they needed to advocate for their mental health. In our case, that plan included:
A quiet family feast—Instead of 30 relatives we barely knew, we now invite two or three cherished family members and keep things low key.
Knowing that opting out is okay—My children also know they are allowed to leave the table or the room whenever anxiety or other forms of stress overtake them. They are free to return if they can or stay away if they need.
Limited engagements—Abundant down-time provides my children time to regenerate and get ready for events during the holidays and work or school after the holidays.
No guilt—We take the flak from family members without letting it guilt-trip us (When Family Undermines Your Mental Health Plan). My kids have found a holiday system that works for them, supports their mental health, and allows for them to honor the spirit of the holiday without all the commercialism or holiday obligations. Extended family members may not understand it. We can live with that.
Your holiday mental health needs may look different than ours. Maybe you thrive on family feasts. Maybe seeing anyone is stressful. There is no one-size-fits-all answer. But, by looking honestly at your stressors and reactions, you can create a wellness plan for yourself and your family that provides you with support for family mental illness and puts your family into the category of that 36% of the people in the NAMI study who find holidays enjoyable.
Getting through the holidays with your mental health is possible. And it can be wonderful.
Do you have any holiday mental health tips that work for you and your family? Please share them in the comments.
Mental Health and the Holiday Blues. (2014, November 19). Retrieved November 20, 2017, from NAMI.