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Holiday cheers or a blizzard of tears?

Posted on December 22, 2022 by Sunny South News

By Cal Braid
Sunny South News

On Dec. 5, the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) published an article on their website called ‘Five ways to protect your mental health this holiday.’ It’s well-written and insightful enough to easily stand on its own. We give the CMHA full credit for the insights we borrowed from them and are merely adding a few thoughts of our own and summarizing their ideas.

The holidays arouse a variety of feelings and associations that are personal to each of us. So, the range of other people’s holiday experiences is probably more drastic than we would expect, especially if we’re cozy, relaxed, and slurping up eggnog by the fireplace. Most fortunate folks generally associate the holidays with peace, joy, good cheer, banquet-style meals, decadent treats, silver bells, red bows, green trees, and glittering gifts. That seems to be the standard. Colours galore; but for many, the blues are waiting in the back room, where we go to hide from the stress and fatigue.

The CMHA says that “52 per cent of Canadians report feelings of anxiety, depression, and isolation during the holiday season. (The holidays) can actually make depression and anxiety worse.”

Here’s what the CMHA listed as five tripping hazards that could turn our happy holiday into an unhappy faceplant into the snow: 1. (Too) great expectations 2. Merriment to the max 3. Trying to be the ‘perfect host’ 4. Too much togetherness 5. Feeling left out in the cold

In terms of ‘great expectations,’ the CMHA article uses words like obligations, ideals, judgements, and pressure.” Who wants to opt-out of that? Plenty of us. It also wisely considers that cultural and religious traditions can change and flat-out differ between family members and groups of people. The message is, “(Don’t let) traditions dictate how and if you celebrate.”

By ‘merriment to the max,’ the CMHA means, “Over-eating. Over-drinking. Over-spending. General over-indulgence.” And then there’s the little problem of “compulsory consumerism and mandatory merriment.” It can be hard on our mental health, especially if we’re financially strapped or have a health problem. The advice here is to not sacrifice next month’s well-being by overdoing it now. Just don’t. Continue to eat well, rest, exercise, and budget.

‘Trying to be the perfect host’ is a losing battle, especially if we’re an imperfect host hosting imperfect guests. The CMHA author says we can take a break—or retire!—from hosting. Imagine that. Again, pressure can get to us. People pleasers and perfectionists beware. Some situations (and guests) are a conflict waiting to happen. Set boundaries and expectations for the event and let everybody know what they are.

‘Too much togetherness’ in this context means “intensely social.” Again, “get-togethers and family dinners can create relationship dynamics that are rife with discomfort, and even conflict. Tensions can run high,” per the article. Everybody knows that family dynamics can be difficult at times. In addition, individuals differ in their levels of extroversion and introversion. The suggestion from the article on this one is, “Give yourself permission to do what’s best for you. Don’t feel guilty for cancelling (or leaving).” We can take some quiet time to ourselves as we need it.

For those who are ‘feeling left out in the cold,’ as in lonely or isolated, it’s not a happy place to be. According to the CMHA, “More than one in 10 Canadians often or always feel lonely.” A sense of connection and community is important to almost everyone, even if it’s limited. If we’ve been separated from or lost a loved one, the feeling is exacerbated. If we think about it, there are a multitude of ways that a person might feel disconnected or in despair during a social season. The best advice on this is to get involved in a community group, volunteer, or spend time in any place where others are gathered and engage with them.

This is directly from the CMHA:

If, despite your best efforts, you feel overwhelmed with feelings of anxiety or sadness, or if your negative feelings are persistent or get in the way of your daily life, you should reach out for mental health support:

• If you just want to talk to someone, there are “warm lines” for you to do just that.

• If you’re a young person, try the youth peer-to-peer online community.

• Please contact your local CMHA or visit the Government of Canada’s Wellness Together portal.

• If you are thinking of suicide, please call Talk Suicide at 1-833-456-4566 toll-free in Canada (1-866-277-3553 in Quebec) or dial 911.

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