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Christmas Is a Challenging Time for People With Mental Health Issues

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The Christmas season comes around every year. For some of us, Christmas is a timely reminders of what’s wrong in our lives instead of what we have to celebrate. There are many reasons why Christmas can seem particularly depressing. If you are in the US, post midterm election fervour and the ever shifting political landscape can be extremely anxious making no matter what your political stance is across the so called ‘isle’.

This year may have been particularly problematic for you, or your family and friends. Maybe you lost a friend, or loved one? Perhaps you are despondent about a recent tragedy? Across the globe, we seem to be experiencing more and more of these not so random acts of violence.

With this said, there are even more reasons to find peace with self-management strategies that will teach you to reduce self-harming thoughts and feelings to promote the very joy we are hoping to experience on Christmas.

I would like to be the very first to wish you the happiest Christmas, and hope that what I am about to say about the Christmas resonates with you, and you take a piece of it with you to the party, wherever that is, whatever it looks like in your home.

I also would like to suggest, that this coming Christmas season isn’t much different from every other celebration of life, joy, and togetherness, which you have encountered over your many years at fighting the holiday blues. What I mean is, everyday, needs to be celebrated, and every moment, considered the latest and most memorable time in your life. Sure, we set Christmas and New Year’s as the crowning moment in our year and the very apex of happiness we should feel for the year. But is this a healthy perspective? During my years working in the field in the most impoverished, poverty-ridden areas of New York State, I have worked with my share of families without enough to feed or cloth themselves during the winter, nevertheless, find money for gifts and toys for the children.

At one point, I found myself working for an agency that pushed its own agenda for the Christmas, and wanted to seem giving to those without – as mobile clinicians were pushed to promote ‘Operation Holiday Joy’. In doing so, we would solicit from our clients the kind of gifts they would like to get on Christmas, hopefully something healthy and promoting wellness, but nevertheless, a gift for the Christmas. Well, let me tell you something you may think is a sharp departure from kindness, giving, and the very acts we usually relegate to the holidays. I did not participate! Why? Because giving, receiving, and the very exchange of presents should happen year around if we are to promote healthy practices around gifting and all other supposed acts of cheer we push ourselves in some unhealthy, grand display of affection every year.

Instead, I made giving a sporadic, and intermittent, unpredictable act of joy for my clients. I never received funding for it, and explained my theory of goodwill and joy to the agency, but my perspective, a healthy one at that, landed on deaf ears. Why? Because we are so caught up in image, reputation, and living up to an impossible standard of care, compassion, and good meaningful love, that instead, we focus on the iconic, hallmark-laden, and artificial celebration of the Christmas.

Look, if spending outrageous amounts of money, and giving the latest version of the X-box to your kids, or whatever gaming system they just have to have is your thing, than do it. But for most of us, we cant keep that up. And more importantly, on the level of good mental health, its a terrible idea, and totally unsustainable in the long-term.

On a deeper, more problematic level, Christmas can be just plain triggering. For many times, for the reasons previously discussed, and for others, they are simple and troublesome reminders of a difficult past. So, if it is past trauma that seems to surface around this time of year, there are ways to handling this which are productive than isolation, withdrawal, and seasonal agitation into the new year. So, depending on the trauma, you might want to proceed a few different ways when thinking about how to welcome the New Year:

  • First, remember these reminders of past negative experiences during Christmas are brazenly overlooked and misunderstood by peers, family members, friends and colleagues who might not be totally familiar with your personal history. So, don’t be shocked when people are confused or puzzled by your change in mood or behaviour. It doesn’t mean these same people aren’t going to be supportive, it just means, it might be time to open up, ask for help, and seek support.
  • Fortunately, nobody is an expert in your life but you. So, depending on your circumstance, or particular struggle, you may want to use this time of year as the first moment in your recovery and healing. So, did you lost a parent?, a child?, a job?, a flat?… suffered an injury? These are personal traumas that we can carry every day but really we need to look inward, seek psychiatric or psychotherapy and counsel, and begin to experience life again on your own terms. So, if you are calendar-watching in anticipation of Christmas, and dreading it, know that is your choice to take this as an opportunity to move on, or sit in your negativity until you dread the very sight of people loving life and celebrating each moment to the very limits joy brings us each day we choose to open our eyes to it.
  • Finally, and most importantly, remember that feeling like you should make a decision based on an immediate, and short-lived negative impulse is never advisable. What I mean here that eclipsing your life, and engaging in acts of self-harm, are fleeting impulses and long term solutions to a passing problem. So, if the problem seems insurmountable, impassable, and too much to handle on your own, seek medical attention, and without further delay, immediately proceed to your nearest emergency room or call 911 if you are in the US and need help at a moments notice.

None of us can turn back the hands of time. If this Christmas isn’t about self-acceptance, and owning your past decisions, then don’t expect to have many learning moments in the New Year either. However, if you want to truly move on, experience life again on your own terms, take my advice. and give yourself your life back. Make this Christmas a year round experience of joy, happiness, and all things dreamed, realised – today, tomorrow, and everyday moving forward. Establish new goals, re-imagine tomorrow, today, and make your dream a lasting legacy to model for friends, family, and your children.

Maxwell Guttman teaches social work at Fordham University. He is also a mental health correspondent for Psychreg where he shares his insights on recovery and healing. 


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