by Mary Kay Irving
Here we are again at this oh-so-joyous and simultaneously stressful of seasons! Our commitment to self care throughout these upcoming days and weeks will go a long way towards helping us lose the ‘bah’ and the ‘bug’ and making sure we keep more of the ‘hum’ in our holidays, whether we are basting the Thanksgiving turkey, lighting the menorah or singing Christmas carols.
To start, lets gain some perspective. Many people, not just those who have or live with someone who has a mental illness, feel added pressure this time of year. Even before Halloween, the Christmas decorations are out in stores. TV specials perpetuate the notion that holidays are a time of excessive happiness spent in perfect harmony with your loved ones. Parties abound with an unending stream of calories and alcohol and gift giving is promoted despite ones means. The lure is to spend more, drink more and attend every gathering possible to reach some illusion of this idealized state of happiness. More often after the parties and holiday are over, many feel regret, guilt and possibly remorse at the added inches and credit card debt, feeling no closer to family or friends or the promised land of happiness.
For those impacted by mental illness the pressures can be magnified. How hard it must be to attend a room of happy, joyful people if your adult child has just been hospitalized for their illness or when it is also the season you lost a loved one to suicide. The prospect of attending the office party may feel terrifying to someone with an anxiety disorder, or for someone fearing a relapse with their alcoholism or binge eating.
What can we do to help ourselves, our loved ones and our congregants throughout these upcoming days? If you are a caregiver or the leader of a faith community or sangha remind your community regularly about self care, be a model of this care and make sure your events offer plenty of non-alcoholic beverages and non-sugary foods. Additionally, be sure to build into the the hectic holiday schedule periods and places for quiet prayerful and meditative activities. The following list includes suggestions I have learned about, practiced and shared over the years due to their helpfulness to me both personally and professionally. Think of them as tools to add to your personal and congregations bag of options and resources.
- Maintain your normal routine, including the time you eat and the types of foods you eat.
- Get plenty of sleep (8 hrs if possible) going to bed and awakening at the same time every day (including weekends).
- Get regular exercise (hike, bike, walk the dog, snowshoe, board, ski, go dancing, swim at the local rec center etc.).
- Maintain hobbies, interests and social connections perhaps while doing some of the above activities.
- Allow down time, alone time and reflection.
- If you take medication, take it regularly and make sure prescriptions are filled well in advance.
- Drink plenty of water and avoid sugary food and drinks.
You will notice that 5 out of the 7 suggestions include basic bodily needs such as food, hydration and exercise. Being loving towards our bodies is essential for the healthy functioning of our minds and moods. In part 2 I will move beyond our physical care to address more of the social and emotional self-care skills. Until then, eat, play, rest and allow for the natural arising of gratitude that emanates from a healthy body.
Wishing you 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.