The holiday season is full of many colors, from cheerful reds and golds, to more calming tones, and somber hues. It is the multitude of colors that creates the special beauty of the season. This time of the year is an opportunity to celebrate and to acknowledge that not everyone feels festive. Especially following an intense and challenging year, we can demonstrate the spirit of the season with kindness, generosity, and love by checking in with ourselves and others.
It's OK to not be happy. The holiday season is full of sights and sounds that can trigger symptoms of trauma, feelings of sadness, guilt, and shame because they are reminders of loss or vital things we do not have. When it seems like everyone else is swimming in joyful abundance, the contrast with how we are feeling can sharpen the pain. Even if we are fortunate enough to live in a comfortable home and be surrounded by helpful family, the increased presence of alcohol, rich foods, and more intense socializing can cause anxiety.
If you are feeling sadness or anger, ask yourself "what helps and what hurts"? Give a name to the things that trigger hard feelings and some thought to what makes you feel better. Simple things that can be found in everyday life are best, like taking a walk or ride outside, reading a favorite book, watching a beloved movie, or practicing deep breathing. If your feelings are overwhelming, you are not alone. It's OK to reach out to someone you trust.
It's also OK to be happy. Rejoice in these feelings and cultivate gratitude that you can feel them. Whatever you may have been through this year, you do deserve to celebrate and feel good. However, practicing balance and self-care is just as important when you are happy. Nothing will spoil feelings of happiness like overdoing it. Be sure to moderate intake of alcohol and food, incorporate movement every day, and get enough rest. If possible, reserve some quiet time for mindfulness practices, like deep breathing, and reflection.
How can you check-in with others who are having a tough time during the holiday season? Expectations of festivity and togetherness make this time of year especially hard for those who may be alone, have lost a loved one, or are without a home or livelihood. In most cases these are not problems you can solve for them, but you can go out of your way with a small act of kindness. Acknowledge the unhoused person you meet on the street, ask them if you can buy them a coffee or a sandwich. In social gatherings or when checking in with friends and family be alert to signs that the person may be sad and open the door for them to share their feelings.
Take Action for Self-Care Challenge #1: Check-in with others and get support if needed.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (24/7)
Peer-Run Warm Line (24/7)
With warm winter wishes,
The CalMHSA Technical Assistance Team