The holiday season can be full of joy and merriment, but it can also bring disappointments, arguments, and stress, said Phil Buck, a social worker for the YMCA of Greater Cleveland.
Expectations of the perfect holiday can be one of the main drivers of this stress, Buck said.
“We work very hard to make the holidays look like a Hallmark commercial, and sometimes they don’t, and that can be very stressful,” he said.
The holidays usually aren’t perfect. Instead they can be messy and not go as we expect, he said.
“If we can start the day recognizing things are probably not going to go perfectly, it just helps to keep the anxiety down,” Buck said.
The holidays might also remind people of the family that can’t be there.
“We miss the loved ones that we’ve lost, we miss our family that can’t be in town, we worry about the relationships in our lives that aren’t working out the way we want them to,” Buck said.
There are ways to improve your mental health through what can be a challenging month.
“We’ve got to start with feeling comfortable saying no. You don’t need to feel obligated to say yes to every single invitation,” Buck said.
Planning ahead and delegating responsibility, especially if you’re hosting, can also be ways to minimize stress.
“Don’t allow yourself to be the family doormat that takes care of everybody else’s good time and does all the work,” he said.
The holidays can be especially difficult for people struggling with substance abuse disorders, Buck said. He’s the clinical director of Y-Haven, a residential facility run by the YMCA of Greater Cleveland, and some of the people they serve need extra help avoiding alcohol or drugs during the holidays.
“For anyone out there who’s in recovery and who’s trying to avoid use of drugs and alcohol, it’s going to be just really important that you stay close with others who know about your need to abstain and people who are going to be supportive,” Buck said.
He recommends keeping visits brief if there is temptation to use alcohol or bringing a sponsor if you are in Alcoholics Anonymous (AA).
Talking about mental health with your family can also be helpful, as conversations around mental health destigmatize the subject and can connect people with resources, Buck said.
“We all have mental health,” he said. “It doesn’t mean we all have mental illness, but most people deal with ups and downs in their mental health throughout the year.”
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