Protecting Your Mental Health on Thanksgiving

Brought to you by Trust Mental Health

People in the United States are more likely to feel their stress increases rather than decreases during the holidays. The holidays can be a hectic time for many, and a lack of money, a lack of time, and the hype and commercialism of the season causes increased stress for people in this country. [1]

While the holidays are a time of joy and togetherness, they can also be triggering for many, as well as for those dealing with mental health challenges. 

Thanksgiving is approaching, along with the change in seasons. Now may be a good time to set up good mental health practices. 

This is considered a time when people gather and enjoy each other, which can be wonderful, but is also troubling for some. It puts a lot of pressure on people, for example:

  • Demands on time and energy
  • Planning meals 
  • Travel logistics
  • Guests coming to stay
  • Strain on finances
  • Existing conditions such as depression, anxiety, stress, and other mental health disorders may be exacerbated

Managing Your Mental Health During the Holiday

GRIEF AND LOSS

The holidays can be exceptionally difficult if you are grieving the loss of a loved one or the end of a relationship. You do not have to put on a happy front if you do not feel that way. Take the pressure to conform to holiday norms off yourself. 

“I remember one family holiday gathering, held some months after an aunt of mine passed away. Her daughter was in attendance, and halfway through the meal she started sobbing at the table. She revealed to us all that it was very hurtful that no one had mentioned her mother. This was a holiday that her mother especially enjoyed, and people thought they were being sensitive by avoiding conversation about her. But for her daughter, her mother’s absence was made more pronounced by this. She needed to hear about her mother and how she enjoyed this holiday, and how much everyone missed her.”

Sometimes when we are mourning a loss, we need to talk about our loved one and share their memories. This validates how we feel, and validation is a form of support.

LONELINESS

If you are alone or feeling isolated, try reaching out to people within your community or neighborhood.

“The residents on my floor all know each other. It seemed everyone had plans for Thanksgiving except me. As the holiday approached, I felt low and lonely. I thought better than hear people enjoying themselves from my empty apartment, I could try making plans with a neighbor. The family down the hall had me over, and it was one of the best Thanksgivings I had.”

MANAGE YOUR EXPECTATIONS

Planning to host Thanksgiving dinner, or being a guest at one, can both be a cause of stress and anxiety. Prepare yourself for the possibility that things may not go as planned. You must try to manage your expectations. Allow yourself some flexibility – it does not have to be perfect. It is best to keep your boundaries in clear view, say no when you need to, and not take on too much.

“We were hosting Thanksgiving dinner. Almost all the relatives that were staying us had specific requirements and, well, hang ups. We had to make so many different kinds of dishes just to please everyone. The college kids brought friends and girlfriends; an uncle brought his dog – it was a mess. I felt trampled on and taken advantage of. I did not enjoy the gathering. I came out of it exhausted and resentful. I did not feel a sense of fun and family as I was expecting.”

The golden rule is to plan ahead as much as possible. This will leave a buffer for any hiccups or unforeseen problems.  If you are hosting dinner, ask someone who will be attending to help you with the preparations. If you are a guest, consider inviting someone supportive to accompany you. 

Be Aware of Your Triggers and Unhealthy Coping Mechanisms 

Take some time to consider what is causing you stress or anxiety. Recognize your triggers and have a plan for when you are faced with one. Often, when we are triggered, we slide into unhealthy patterns that temporarily enable us to cope. These behaviors may include overeating, drinking too much alcohol, or excessive tobacco use. If we are aware of what or who triggers us, we are better able to handle it. 

“My parents do not like my brother’s wife, for various reasons. His wife does not know this. Thanksgiving dinner at my parents – my brother was drinking a bit too much to cope with the awkwardness. The tension became too much and he brought it up in front of everyone, leading to a super uncomfortable meal. And tears.”

Try to put aside difficult conversations or grievances with someone for a later time.

TRIGGERING TOPICS

Choose what conversations you will engage in. If someone is trying to draw you into a situation that you find stressful or upsetting, demure your way out of it. You can smile and say, “That’s a conversation for another time.” Or, you can excuse yourself and go for a short walk. You do not need to stay in a situation that is uncomfortable in order to be polite. 

“We were struggling with infertility. We had been married for 5 years and still no baby. I dreaded family events because I would be asked by the same pair of ladies about when I would ‘make them grandmothers’. This was upsetting for me to go through in the middle of a gathering, but I felt rude cutting off their questions.”

DON’T BUY INTO THE HYPE

There is a lot of hype and commercialism around our holidays. This can set up unrealistic expectations of what the holiday should be like. By buying into the hype and marketing you can set yourself up for disappointment. 

Social media will be full of images of what the perfect seasonal décor should be, and how a table should be beautifully set. You may receive an onslaught of images that trigger you, or that make you feel like you are lacking something. 

Not everyone has a Thanksgiving meal with a loving family around a table laden with food. Not everyone has their children with them. Not everyone has a partner to share the day with. Not everyone has their parents on this day. Not everyone is feeling mentally healthy. Not everyone is able to have a Thanksgiving of laughter, love and good food. 

We can stop, take a breath, and appreciate what we do have. We can extend some sensitivity and warmth to those who may find this holiday difficult. In this way, we will truly embody the spirit of gratitude and wellbeing. 

SELF-CARE 

Make a budget for the holiday. Doing this will prevent you from overextending yourself financially. This is another area where careful planning can help avoid conflict with your partner or relatives. 

Make your mental wellbeing a priority in the days leading up to and during the holiday. Try and maintain healthy habits – getting enough sleep, eating well, controlling alcohol intake, and keeping up with physical activity.

Accept that some things – and people – are beyond your control. There are some people who will not change, and you cannot change them. You may be sitting across the table from or sharing the kitchen with a difficult person. Making peace with your lack of control will enable you to feel less reactive towards them. 

Perhaps you have guilt around this time. Or maybe you feel that being depressed is ungrateful – the opposite of the gratitude you ‘should’ be feeling. Take the time to be with your thoughts and emotions. Do not judge yourself. This is a time to be gentle with yourself and others. 

The strategies and examples outlined in this article may help you in making a plan this season. Being prepared will help you maintain your mental health. If you are in a good space mentally, you will be better able to spend time with those you care about. Self-compassion and tolerance for the way you feel will also empower you to extend the same to those around you.

REACH OUT TO MENTAL HEALTH SERVICES

If you are worried about how the upcoming holidays will affect you, consider reaching out to mental health services for support. Treatment such as anxiety therapy or depression therapy can help improve your mindset. Trust Mental Health has a team of therapists that are from diverse backgrounds and speak multiple languages.We believe in the importance of speaking with someone who understands your background and culture. 

Those with intersectional identities may benefit from faith-based therapy. Our therapists are trained to be open and sensitive to the client’s cultural and religious beliefs. 

Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) may have their own way of relating to Thanksgiving. We also offer BIPOC therapy, which recognizes that individuals face complex challenges that require solutions tailored to their needs. 

Let us help. Contact us today for a free 15 minute consultation. We will match you with a therapist best suited to your requirements.

References

[1] www.apa.org Holiday Stress Report

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