3 Tips to Survive the Holidays While Living with Mental Illness

snowflakes clouds holiday winter background

As joyous as the holiday season can be, it is not immune from difficulties. If you’re living with a mental illness, dealing with the holiday cheer, increased expectations, and interacting more with family may prove to be overwhelming at times. Stress is often at an all-time high during the holiday season.

Here are some tips to help keep you mentally healthier throughout the holidays.

Tip 1: Be Honest With Yourself

Too often, we rely on others’ standards and expectations for us to dictate how we spend our time during the holidays. This pattern can lead to a crisis when you consider the already stressful season of spending extra money and a condensed amount of time with family members who may not understand your mental illness.

Surviving the holiday starts with being candid with yourself about your desires, abilities, and limitations. Being honest about your need for extra space, or quiet time, or only visiting for a certain amount of time (irrespective of pressures placed on you) are some of the ways you can carve out holiday time with your relatives and loved ones in a way that works best for you. If you can be more honest with yourself and those around you about what works and what doesn’t, you will likely come out on the other side of the holiday season feeling more balanced than in previous years.

If you have concerns about how to have these boundary setting conversations with those around you, connecting with a therapist can be helpful.

Tip 2: Share and Educate

Sometimes the people around us during the holidays cannot understand what goes on inside our hearts and minds. This communication barrier can make interactions really difficult. For instance, they may not understand how your anxiety disorder makes talking with distant relatives almost impossible. They may not understand how you worked for the past few months with your therapist to curb binge eating and are now stressed about what you consume during holiday dinner. These are issues you may want to overcome to get the best out of your holiday season.

Due to this knowledge gap, relatives may inadvertently trigger or pressure you to engage in ways that aren’t healthiest for you. In these moments, it may be best if you can share and educate someone about what challenges you’re facing so you have an ally around the holidays. Additionally, having a pre-holiday conversation with a loved one you trust to be supportive might help reduce some of the anticipatory anxiety. You might even come up with some signals when you’re in need of extra support.

If you know you’ll be around people who are otherwise supportive but lack education about mental illness, it might be helpful to send them some articles or videos about mental health issues before the holidays hit so that they can try their best to do what they can to support you.

Tip 3: Carve Out Solo Activities and Seek Refuge

If you don’t spend the majority of the year with your family, it can be overwhelming to get back into the groove with family members during the holiday season. For many, it can also be overwhelming to engage with extended family members and friends of the family whom you also don’t keep up with often.

Creating a self-care plan ahead of time with potential solo activities and places of refuge can be helpful in keeping you balanced during the holidays. Think ahead of the environment where you will be spending most of your time. Are there places where you can find a few minutes of solitude if you feel overwhelmed? Will the weather allow you to take a brief, solo walk outside if the time indoors becomes too stifling?

Perhaps you can commiserate with a friend via text or phone call to break up the down time. And, my personal favorite, it’s always wise to have a good book on hand when you need a few minutes to yourself. Most of the time, people will give you at least a little time and space to indulge in some healthy escapism.

If you’re currently working with a therapist, it might also be helpful to talk with them beforehand about your concerns. They can help you construct the specifics of your plan and can even recommend steps to take if you experience some sort of crisis.

No matter how you are spending the holidays, there are steps you can take to make the season easier if you live with mental illness. Taking some of these initiatives will help you make the best of your holiday season no matter how or with whom you spend them.

Published by

Jor-El Caraballo

Talkspace Therapist