One of the most catchy Christmas tunes bellows forth, “Have a holly jolly Christmas, it’s the best time of the year…”. The popular song has quite a contagious melody, but I’m not so sure the lyrics ring true for all who hear them. The holiday season can bring happiness and cheer, but it can also elicit quite opposite emotions. Mental health challenges like loneliness, depression, anxiety, and overwhelming stress are prevalent for many in the fall and winter months. Clinical depression with a seasonal pattern affects around 6% of the U.S. population according to the National Institute of Health.
On one hand, it’s not a surprise that the holidays can bring extra stress. The sheer volume of added demands that pop up is a lot for any individual. Preparing for guests, hosting gatherings, cooking, cleaning, shopping, decorating… oh my. The stress can go much deeper for those with chronic mental health challenges, however. Some have dealt with the loss of loved ones around this time of the year which can bring on sadness or feelings of loneliness. For others, the holidays have historically been marked by negative experiences which can lead to unwanted or distressing memories. There might also be physical health struggles, financial difficulties, or relational strain that accompany the holidays.
If you suffer from chronic mental health challenges, it can be more difficult to notice the signs of holiday exacerbation. It is important to be self-aware and survey your emotions regularly, especially during the holiday season. In the United States, we also deal with Daylight Savings Time which means darker, shorter days in the Fall and Winter months. These changes can increase the risk for Seasonal Affective Disorder. Whether you are dealing with a psychological disability or less regular seasonal stressors, here are some symptoms to be aware of.
**If you notice yourself experiencing one or more of the following makers, these tips may be very useful, but you should always consult with a licensed healthcare professional when these symptoms are chronic or long-lasting.
Due to the new Department of Transportation (DOT) policy, Emotional Support Animals are NO longer allowed to fly in airplane cabins for free. However, Psychiatric Service Dogs are eligible.
Some say happiness is a choice, but we know that isn’t always the case. It’s ok to give yourself permission to grieve or express less than pleasant emotions. Just because those around you are enjoying the season, doesn’t mean that it is easy for you to follow suit. Finding small things to be grateful for can help refocus your negative emotions, but you shouldn’t dismiss them altogether. It is important to give yourself space to process all that you are feeling without guilt or shame. Don’t let anyone tell you that your feelings are wrong, though you should be mindful of how you express them outwardly. Our experiences (both good and bad) shape us into who we are. The key is to not work around them but rather to work through them.
Let go of the need for things to be any particular way. Holiday traditions that were passed on by deceased loved ones can be gently honored by creating your own version of them. They might not be a perfect reflection of what used to be, but they can help to heal wounds of loss. Everyone accepts death and disappointment in unique ways. Don’t expect that other family members will share your desired plans for the holiday. That’s ok too. Do what feels right to you, and give others the freedom to do the same. If you are managing physical or financial limitations, don’t allow guilt or shame to creep in. It can be easy to compare your situation to others, especially on social media. Though you can feel disheartened, remember that we each have a unique journey. Setting some appropriate boundaries for yourself can help to keep anxiety and depression at a lower level.
Something I have found beneficial over the years is planning ahead. I decide at the end of the summer what I will commit to (or say no to) for the upcoming holiday season. My emotional state can change from day to day, therefore agreeing to things at the spur of the moment often proves detrimental. By allowing myself to think ahead, I can set more reasonable goals for the things I can accomplish without the guilt of overextension. This rule applies to my gift budget/shopping time, social schedule, and even simple personal choices like the amount of decorating I want to do! I leave room for change but always defer to my prepared list if I start to feel torn when the season gets chaotic.
The holidays can get busy, and you might be tempted to put self-care on the back burner. Pushing yourself to “power through” without intentional downtime to recharge would be a bad idea. So often, we try to white-knuckling our way through chaotic seasons but that approach only makes it worse and exhausts us further. Even when the schedule gets fuller, try to maintain your regular self-care routines. If you typically wind down with a bath in the evenings, continue to do so! If breathing exercises help center you each morning, keep making room for that practice. No matter if it’s taking walks with your dog, sticking to a doctor-prescribed medication regime, seeing a counselor weekly, or simply reading for 20 minutes a day, stick to healthy habits that you know will help. Embrace even the smallest things that bring you joy, and maybe even build some holiday traditions around them!
Remember that you do not have to do this alone! We are naturally built for companionship and connection. There is nothing to be ashamed of if you are managing mental health challenges. Some individuals feel more comfortable expressing their struggles or needs to furry friends rather than human ones, and I completely support both. In fact, my Emotional Support Dog knows more about me than any other living creature on the planet. It is extremely therapeutic to verbally express the thoughts and feelings that are swirling around inside. One of the best things you can do is find a trusted ear to listen and a sturdy shoulder to lean on (no matter what form they take).
Let’s agree to recognize that holidays can be great, but not always. My holiday wish is that more folks would expand their scope of “normal” and embrace a pattern of empathy for all. It’s also my hope that every individual, including myself, would be able to experience peace during the holidays. Mental health challenges are real, but so is the available help. I am thankful for the chance to practice the suggestions included in this article, and for the extra special gift of my Emotional Support Animal. If you find yourself struggling this holiday season, give yourself grace and a pat on the back for reading this far! Also, if you’d like to see if you qualify for an Emotional Support Animal or Psychiatric Service Dog, you can click the link below for more specific information.
The benefits of an Emotional Support Animal certification and a Psychiatric Service Dog certification are drastically different. Fortunately for you, American Service Pets’ network of active board certified doctors can help you find the right path to certification. To find out whether you need an ESA or PSD letter, take our easy, three-step Pet Owner Survey!
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