Around the holidays, there is often an expectation that we will all be our happiest selves. With the focus on holiday cheer and time with family, there can be immense pressure to live up to the expectations of this festive season.
For those living with mental illness, the stress and pressure of the holidays can often cause increased anxiety, depression, or worsen other mental health symptoms. In Sacramento County alone, it is estimated that nearly 300,000 residents are living with a mental illness, which means we all need to bring understanding and kindness to ourselves and each other as we greet this holiday season.
Below are some valuable mental health tips from Claudia, a member of the Stop Stigma Sacramento Speaker’s Bureau, on behalf of the Sacramento County “Mental Illness: It’s not always what you think” project:
"I frequently talk about my first-hand experience living with bipolar disorder and I have seen my friends and loved ones struggle to maintain their mental health during the holidays. Dealing with stressors and pressures, whether it be work-related or personal family issues, can become more complex during the holiday season.
"I know that for me, the holidays often bring nostalgia and sadness because my parents and many members of my family are in Mexico, and memories of past Christmas celebrations make me miss them more than usual. When I was 22, I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Since then, I have to be mindful to fend off the sadness and stressors to prevent myself from falling into depression during the holiday season.
"While this can be a difficult time, I have found a few different ways to take care of myself during the holidays, and I hope they are helpful for you too:
- Don’t overbook yourself. There are often demands to be with family and friends, but don’t overextend or exhaust yourself during the holidays. You owe yourself the time to breathe and check in to make sure you are in a healthy mental space.
- Do things that nourish you. It can be easy to get caught up in what your parents or your kids want or expect out of the holidays, but don’t forget that your needs are just as important. If you need to take an hour each day to read or meditate, make sure to set that time aside.
- Spend time with people who support you. Knowing that the holidays are coming up, increase time with those in your support system. Make sure you invest time with people who bring you joy and peace rather than those who cause friction or strife.
- Keep your expectations realistic. Be practical about the money you are spending on loved ones and don’t put pressure on the holidays to be extraordinary. You and your family members are only human, so every day might not be perfect or magical – and that’s ok.
- Get enough sleep. It might be a small thing, but getting the sleep you need every night can keep you a little healthier and happier. Sleep deprivation can heighten emotions and cause unnecessary, added stress. "
As we approach the new year, remember to take care of yourself, and keep in mind that the holidays may be a stressful time for many of your family members and friends too. Reach out to loved ones who might be struggling with the pressure of the holidays, take the time you need for yourself and enjoy this holiday season!
If you want to learn more about the resources available for those living with mental illness in Sacramento County, visit the Stop Stigma Sacramento website