A Survival Guide for Maintaining Your Mental Health Over the Holidays
The holidays can be really hard, especially when you live with a mental illness. Here are some of the few things you can do in the coming weeks to preserve your mental health.
1. Find a way to maintain your routine.
It’s not going to be your normal routine, because even if you don’t celebrate the holidays work/school/family/life gets disrupted this time of year. So try to find a way to do the same thing every day. It can be something small, like taking your meds, walking the dog, screaming into a pillow — whatever you need to do. Set an alarm on your phone. Ask a friend to text you a reminder. If your dog’s bladder is reliable, set your watch by that.
Personally, this is the hardest thing for me to do. I fail at it a lot. But I will say that when I was home for Thanksgiving, I did take a nap every afternoon.
2. Get some alone time.
I need some alone time to recharge, but it can be really hard to ask that of my loved ones. I love them and I want to see them, but I get really stressed if I don’t get some time to be in my own head.
But this isn’t true for everyone. If it’s not for you, take some down time with other people. You can watch bad TV together. Listen to the new Adele album and compare feelings. (Or, if you’re a robot, compare…pistons?)
3. Be healthy (but not too healthy).
Try to maintain eating habits you’ve learned work for you, but don’t beat yourself up if you don’t. If you eat eight of Aunt Linda’s cookie bars, that’s OK. Give yourself a break. It’s not the time to start new habits.
4. Know “this too shall pass.”
The holidays don’t last forever. Things will get less hectic.
5. Don’t feel bad for feeling bad.
It’s OK. I feel it too. It doesn’t mean you don’t love your family and it doesn’t mean you don’t love your friends.
People all over the world feel like crap. I have a theory that’s the whole reason holidays were invented. Everyone who lived in the darkest, coldest parts of the planet were sick of feeling crappy, so they decided to find ways to bring a little light into their lives. It’s a valiant effort, but it’s OK if it doesn’t work for you. It’s OK to still feel crappy.
6. Find an emotional life raft.
Pick one thing you like about this time of year and hold onto it. I like Christmas lights. They’re pretty, shiny and everywhere. I like to drive around and see all the houses lit up. I like to think about all the families in the lit up houses, and how they’re all going through a million different things and how some of them probably can’t wait to take those lights down.
Also when I see two houses next door to each other, I like to imagine that they’re fueding and competing with each other for the best display and it will all escalate into a slapstick romp of a fight. It’s the little things.
7. Be kind to others.
Whether it’s people close to you or people you don’t know. Volunteering, donating or lending some support to someone who needs it is a great way to get out of your head, distract yourself and give you some perspective.
But also be patient with the people around you. No family is perfect and they might say some things that hurt you. Try to forgive them, and be grateful for the people in your life who get it right.
8. Be kind to yourself.
Self-care is not selfish. You’ve got to be your biggest ally and your biggest advocate. You will be OK. Because you’re not alone, and you are OK.
A version of this post originally appeared on Project UROK.