By Mary Kay Irving
In my previous blog post, I covered the basics of physical self care that are so important to maintaining emotional balance and strength through the stress of the holiday season. As essential as it is to get plenty of rest, good food and to stay hydrated with water, it is just as crucial that we honor our individual social and emotional needs.
This time of year offers many opportunities to gather with others at the workplace, with friends, family and at neighborhood parties. Some may feel pressured by others to attend these events either from others or by internal messages of what we think we ‘ought’ to be doing. Lets just agree from the outset to give yourself permission to partake in as many or as few of these events as you like. You do not “have to” attend anything. It is perfectly acceptable to respond to invitations with ‘no’ or ‘no thanks, I have other plans.’ No one needs to know the specifics of your plans whether you are already committed to another party or whether your plans are to stay home alone to get some needed rest or down time. “No thanks” is a complete statement and requires no further explanation.
For those events you do decide to attend, give yourself the option to arrive late and leave early. This can be an empowering option for people with social anxiety or trying to avoid alcohol. For the same reason you may want to turn down carpooling and find your own transportation to further enable your freedom of choice.
For some people their illness might involve or be triggered by something as seemingly harmless as food and drink. For those with an eating disorder you can offer or bring a dish to share that you know will be supportive of your goals and not triggering for you. Or give yourself permission to eat a supportive/healthy meal prior to attending the gathering. If you have alcoholism consider bringing your own festive drink of sparkling cider or specialty teas.
Alternatively you might start and maintain your own holiday traditions. Choose to be with people supportive of you, your family and special needs. You might choose to host your own event where you control the start and end times as well as the guest list. You might choose to see your family at their gathering for a limited time period followed by your own gathering with ‘family of choice.’
Holiday activities don’t have to be large gatherings or centered on food or alcohol. Suggest a gathering to knit scarves or build models for kids at the local homeless shelter or try your hand at making greeting cards to send. Find an activity that brings joy to others and ultimately to you. Volunteer to sing carols at a nursing home, babysit for that single working mom you know from work, deliver a cup of hot cocoa to the policeman directing parking traffic at the mall. Helping others in need is a known mood booster.
Caregivers and faith leaders can implement, suggest or offer a venue for many of the above activities. Caregivers, including faith leaders, of course also feel the additional stress this time of year. Be sure to create time and conditions for yourself to get out and celebrate in a way that feeds your soul. It is the season for giving after all and just as directed by the flight attendants on an airplane, we must first put the oxygen mask on ourselves and then breathe. Breathe deeply.
Happy Holidays everyone!
In peace and gratitude,
Mary Kay Irving
INMI board member
The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the submitter. They do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the board of directors or members of the Interfaith Network on Mental Illness.