Holidays A Mental Health Disaster? You’re Not Alone.
Fall is in full swing, which means hot ciders, lavish decorations, and, for many, holiday stress. This stress is just as ingrained in our culture as the stories behind many of these holidays. How many sitcom holiday specials have we sat thorough telling the story of the stress coming with the holidays, only for the episode to end with “true meaning of the holidays” being re-iterated?
Because of this narrative, there is a myth that suicide rates peak during the winter. This is blatantly false: the winter months actually have some of the lowest rates of suicide. That doesn’t mean that the holidays aren’t a source of stress for people though. Here at Crisis Text Line, we see high rates of a particular type of issue during the holidays: families.
Conversations related to families reach their highest levels in November, just as the holiday season is starting. In these conversations, we see three topics become more popular than usual:
· Emotional abuse: often in regards to people struggling to return to a toxic home environment
· Grief: in relation to the loss of loved one or family member
· Finances: worrying about paying for gifts or contributing to events hosted by other people
Learn more about our crisis data by checking out Crisis Trends.
Clearly, the holidays are not relaxing for everyone. Some of the top words used during these conversations include holiday, relationship, understood, homeless, disowned, and drama. How can we manage the stress that comes with the holidays while still enjoying ourselves?
Keep it in the present.
Our data shows that Crisis Counselors who use the word “lately” in conversations related to families are more likely to be rated as helpful. We can apply this logic to how we plan for the holidays. When making your schedule, take only the current state of affairs into consideration. For example, ask yourself, “What is my relationship with my family currently like” instead of “How has my relationship with my family been?” Focusing on the present prevents dwelling on the negative memories of holidays past.
Celebrate the holidays in the way that feels best for you.
No two people celebrate the holidays in the same way. For many, the holidays are tied to painful memories. The traditional fanfare associated with the season may not feel appropriate. If you’re grieving someone during the holidays, it’s okay to not be in the holiday spirit. If it’s a lonely time for you, don’t feel pressured to engage in big festive events. Treat yourself to your favorite takeout. Watch a cheesy movie. Find a way of celebrating that fits you and your needs.
Have a strategy in place in case things get hairy.
If you do decide to go home to a less than ideal family situation, plan ahead of time. Utilize some of the empathy skills used in our Crisis Counselor training to help move risky conversations from a hot moment to a cool calm:
Listen. It doesn’t feel good to listen to someone who is making hurtful or offensive statements. However, listening shows you care about them enough to at least give what they’re saying a chance.
Validate. Validating is not the same as agreeing. It is not your responsibility to agree with a family member in order to keep the peace. Validating involves using language like “I see” and “It makes sense” to show that you have actively engaged with what they're saying. It shows that not only listened to what they had to say, but you also have thought about it.
Reflect. Listening and validating someone else’s side of the story makes them more likely to listen to you. Be specific in addressing what parts of their statements are difficult for you. For example: "When you said this thing, it made me feel this sort of way" rather than "You are saying xx type of statement."
Questions. If you’re brave and do want to get involved in a heavy conversation, focus on questions rather than accusations. Use “what” and “how” questions to learn more about another person’s ideas. They are less likely to make the other person feel like they’re being attacked and more open to discussion.
Remember: your emotional health is more important than others’ expectations.
A lot of the holiday stress we experience comes from dealing with our families. You may feel like they “owe” it to their relatives to come home for the holidays. But, if returning home to a family situation puts you at risk physically or psychologically, it’s okay to skip. Your emotional health should never come at the sacrifice of fulfilling obligations to other people.
The holidays can be stressful. Remember to take time for yourself, no matter what that looks like. If you need extra support, text one of our Crisis Counselors at 741741 or message us on Facebook. We’re available 24/7, even on holidays. Don’t be afraid to reach out. Your health is important and we need you around.