From The Hartford Community Coalition
The holidays are a time for family, gathering, and reflection, but they can also be stressful for many because of social obligations, expectations, and even sad memories. Those with mental health challenges often already struggle with relationships and addiction issues throughout the year, but the holidays can exacerbate feelings of shame, loneliness, and helplessness. Because of this, it may be hard to use healthy coping mechanisms, which can lead to isolation as well as drug and alcohol use as a way to escape painful feelings.
During this time, especially, it’s important to recognize when you are starting to feel overwhelmed and take time to take care of yourself. This includes asking for help, staying connected to support systems, and acknowledging you don’t have to do everything yourself. Reach out to your family and friends as well as mental health providers, religious groups, and members of the community. And while accepting your own limitations, strive to be accepting of others. Additional stress on everyone can cause tempers to flare: Try to see others’ points of view and recognize that everyone is probably feeling a bit stressed.
As the holidays approach, it helps to be strategic: Set a budget of how much money you can comfortably spend this holiday and stick to it. If buying gifts for everyone is especially difficult, consider doing a "Secret Santa" or "White Elephant" exchange to reduce the number of gifts everyone needs to purchase. You can also make DIY presents, or simply let people know you are unable to give gifts this year. Plan ahead: Schedule when you will do your shopping, baking, cleaning, etc., and be sure to schedule time to take care of yourself. Stay healthy by taking time to enjoy healthy foods, exercise, and get plenty of sleep.
Remember that even a smile and a quick conversation can go a long way with someone who is struggling to stay well. Talk to your family, friends, and neighbors about how they are feeling, and watch for signs that indicate someone might be isolating from activities they usually enjoy, or if they may be using drugs or excessively drinking. Other warning signs include comments from someone about feeling depressed or signs they are just not acting like themselves. Be sure to let your loved ones know you are there to talk to them if they need anything, and help them identify ways they can address the added stress they might be feeling.
For those with anxiety or feelings of wanting to be alone, it can be especially difficult to reach out to others. However, getting together with your closest family or friends for some one-on-one time or small group gatherings can be easier than attending a holiday party or large gathering where there are people you do not know. Other ways to connect to people include sending out holiday cards and communicating with family and friends by phone, text, email, or social media. Peaceful activities, such as meditation, gratitude journaling, or reading are also helpful for those who don't feel comfortable in social situations.
Not everyone has the experience of a happy holiday season. It's easy for most of us to fall into the trap of perseverating on what we don't have, what we wish we had, and feeling sad that others have more than we do. Try to remain grateful for and accepting of what we do have, and keep company with positive and empathetic people. For those who are unable to spend time with friends or family, there are many opportunities to help others. You’re not alone—many community members are unable to spend the holidays with loved ones and may lack resources to host their own holiday events. By volunteering your time, not only are you helping others, but you’ll also have the opportunity to enjoy the holiday with others instead of being alone.
If you do not feel like your natural support systems are enough to alleviate your depression and loneliness over the holidays, there are several community mental health agencies, substance use treatment centers, and human services agencies throughout Vermont and New Hampshire you can reach out to for additional supports with mental health or addiction issues, housing, food needs, and more.
In Windsor and Windham Counties, HCRS is available to support individuals and families with mental health or substance abuse services. You can reach the agency by calling toll-free (855) 220-9430. For a mental health emergency, please call the crisis line: 1-800-622-4235.
Be well and safe this holiday season --
The Hartford Community Coalition