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Our Mental Health: Preparing for the holidays

Valley Morning Star - 12/10/2017

The holiday season is upon us?shopping for those special gifts, making plans for travel to be with loved ones?getting all those ingredients together for those special baking treats and dinners?all a sign that we are in preparation for the special time of the year.

Yet for many, this time of year will not be that special; and in fact, it will bring with it a time of desolation and despair. For the individuals and families having difficulties coping with the stressors of the season?those living in poverty and those affected by mental illness, most particularly depression, this is not the "season to be jolly?" for them the stressors of life play heavily on their minds, making it very difficult, if not improbable, to have a joyous season.

Summer is over, there are less periods of sunlight, cloudy skies pass overhead; seasonal signs that the winter months are upon us. And additionally those pesky holidays are coming. For some individuals, these are also the beginning signs that depression will soon be upon them.

Worry about finances and the family security, thoughts of family members who have passed away, status inconsistency (not being able to have as much as others), etc., are all in the picture. The holidays host a myriad of demands on the person; shopping, baking, cleaning, entertaining, family get-togethers, thoughts of those credit card bills escalating; all take its toll on the person, especially so for those whom the holidays have had an emotional impact in the past. Unless the person has prepared their minds; have taken preventative steps, the stress may become most unbearable. Being over taxed, extremely stressed, may lead to headaches, excessive alcohol consumption, over-eating, and sleeping difficulties.

Then, if that were not enough, there is the post-holiday depression which may occur after the New Year, resulting from the built-up expectations, disappointments from the previous year, and general fatigue from all of the activities and stressors of the holiday season. Yes, my friends, for some the holiday season may not be jolly at all?their mental health may be severely compromised.

This is the time of year when the rates of suicide are at their highest, and fatalities caused by drunken drivers on our highways are also the highest. Not to mention the increase in domestic disputes, accidents, and a host of other problems.

The season does not fare well for those individuals and families, who receive the brunt of those incidents; and in the end, all of us pay a price for that as well.

But not all has to be gloom and doom during this season, as most of us can attest to.

There are a number of things one may do in preparation for the season, and it means that one make early plans.

Planning to not be alone during the season, becoming involved in volunteering?giving your time for others will increase your self-esteem and lessen loneliness, attending holiday celebrations; such as candle light church services or seasonal music concerts, defining your personal limitations in regards to cooking large meals, traveling during the holidays to be with loved ones, sending out a lot of Christmas cards, buying gifts for others, decorating your house, taking care of your physical health; to include having the proper amount of sleep, exercise, and diet; limiting your alcohol consumption if you are to imbibe; and a host of other plans.

Additionally, there are a number of things one may do to alleviate the seasonal depression, general depression, and other problems of mood and mind that may occur at this time of year:

1) Acknowledge your feelings. It is okay to cry or grieve losses in your life. One cannot force themselves to be happy just because it is the holiday season.

2) Reach out to a significant other, or organization that offers support and companionship.

3) Be realistic. The holidays do not have to be perfect. Families change and grow along with traditions and rituals. Choose a few to hold on to, and be open to creating new ones.

4) Set aside differences. Accept family members and friends as they are, even if they do not live up to your expectations. Be understanding and forgiving of others. Remember that a true friend is one who knows you as you are, understands where you've been, accepts who you've become, and still, gently invites you to grow.

5) Stick to a budget. Do not try to buy happiness with an abundance of gifts; there are alternate ways to give gifts such as donating something to charity, giving homemade gifts, etc.

6) Plan ahead. Plan your meals, shopping, etc. Prevent last minute chores.

7) Learn to say no. Saying yes to others desires when you really mean to say no can give you feelings of resentment and being overwhelmed.

8) Don't abandon healthy habits. Be sure to get enough exercise, sleep, and healthy foods. And, I may add here, that for those individuals suffering from seasonal depression, especially occurring on those cloudy, drear days; insure that you have a lot of lights on inside your home?the primary modality of therapy for seasonal depression is "light therapy."

9) Take a breather. Make time for yourself. Find something to do that clears your mind of stressful events of the day, such as a walk or relaxing music.

10) Seek professional help if you need to. And I might add: If you are a person who consumes ethanol beverage, do so in moderation; remember that alcohol is a depressive drug and can make one with depression to become more depressed.

Yes, my friends, it is so important to make plans for the holiday season; but do not be disappointed if all of your plans are not fulfilled.

Make plans, but live in the moment?"One day at a time." That is all any of us can do rationally. ..It is a matter of preparing our mind. Until next time, Stay Healthy My Friends!


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