The holidays can be a hard time for many people. Stress levels are high, and emotions are in high gear. For some, it is the first holiday without a loved one. For others, spending time with family members creates anxiety. Still others may be stressing over finances. Whatever mental or emotional state you find yourself in this season, give yourself some grace and know that there is help available.
Chris Adcock of NAMI Southwest Iowa shared tips for navigating the tricky season and resources if you find yourself struggling through the holidays. She gave us permission to share her article here. Please read below for some suggestions on how to end 2022 on your terms.
This year, do the holidays your way. Most importantly, be true to yourself during this holiday season. Easier said than done? Maybe. But you can at least try. It might be the best gift you give or receive this year.
Here are some suggestions from NAMI Southwest Iowa:
1. PLAN AHEAD FOR EMOTIONS AND EVENTS
Set yourself up for joy or at least less struggle or heartache. Plan for events and possibly foreseen emotions. Make a plan and try to stay with it. Jot your plans down on a daily or weekly basis. It doesn’t have to be formal. Set realistic expectations for yourself and others.
The holidays are not meant to be perfect. Change happens. Just because you’ve done “it” (anything) the same way as you always have, that might not be realistic this year. Sometimes it is important to leave the past behind and look forward to the future. Is it time to create new holiday traditions or at least try one new thing on for size? For some, it’s time to give yourself permission to let it be a “normal” day.
Regardless, make space for messy feelings like grief and disappointment just as you may crave and anticipate joy and warmth.
2. CHOOSE WHO YOU SPEND YOUR TIME WITH
This time of year, who you spend time with is important. It’s doubly important to spend time with supportive and caring people. If there are times you are obligated to be around others you’d rather not see, plan ahead. Make a date for a phone call or a get-together with a friend who understands you. Then, feel free to vent and share your joys. Even in gatherings you are enjoying, consider taking breaks away from others to take a deep breath and re-group/check-in with yourself.
It's also important to be aware of excessive drinking in others and yourself. Emotions and communication are usually affected by alcohol and drugs. Again, plan ahead. You might consider and “escape” plan, a safe ride home, or avoiding toxic settings altogether.
Especially in the busy holiday season, attend or start going to support group(s) like a NAMI Connection Recovery Support Group or NAMI Family Support Group, AA or NA meetings. You can attend NAMI in-person groups or find weekly virtual support groups – check the website, www.NAMISouthwestIowa.com, for dates and times. Don’t feel obligated to attend every meeting once you start going – feel free to come and go as you need.
3. SET, MAINTAIN, AND COMMUNICATE YOUR LIMITS
If you’re frequently over-schedule, busy, and tired, it’s often because you didn’t set limits. That’s ok. Forgive yourself. Now is a great time to begin and practice will make things better. Learn to say “no” and your “yes” will mean much, much more! Don’t be afraid to set boundaries. Be aware, you might catch others off guard, possibly upsetting them. They may hate the change ad let you know how you’ve put them out. Change can be hard for you – and them. There’s also a possibility some people will be very proud of you. Be true to yourself and clear in what you will and won’t allow and you likely won’t go wrong.
Try this: visualize and name your limits even if you’ve never done it before, then write them down – even on a piece of scratch paper. There is power in seeing what your boundaries look like on paper. It’s also important to communicate your boundaries. Writing them down can help you with this, too.
You’re responsible for setting, maintaining, and communicating your own boundaries. Others may (and will) take advantage of your kindness and generosity. Actually, they may not know where your boundaries are in the first place if you’ve never told them through your actions or words. Without boundaries, you may feel put-upon, resentful, and exhausted.
Remember, it’s ok to step back or delegate even if you never have before. Maybe someone else can do the shopping or buy gifts this year. Is going pot-luck a good idea this year? Try sharing the workload, so you can spend more time with the people you trust and enjoy.
Let go of the things you cannot control like the weather, other people’s happiness, how others respond or act, and the future. Live in the here and now and find joy and relief in keeping your boundaries.
4. PROTECT YOUR WELL-BEING
During the holidays, during this likely time of stress, take an active role in protecting your own well-being.
ü Self-care: keep or begin a self-care routine. Give yourself plenty of grace. Don’t expect perfection in keeping this or any routine – just do your best.
Ask for help: Plan on it. Plan on needing assistance and then ask for the help. Others love to pitch in and help when they can. This is one way to build and reinforce relationships.
Get your sleep: As best you can, keep your sleep routine and get enough sleep. You’ll need to recharge daily!
Get active: Almost any form of physical activity can act as a stress reliever. Here’s an option: grab a friend or loved one and take a walk around the block.
Check-in: Do a daily self-check-in. Ask yourself, what am I grateful for today? What do I need today? What is something I can do today that would be good for myself?
Be in control: Focus on the things you can control like the choices you make, dressing for the weather, how you treat others, your thoughts and actions, and even your beliefs and values.
Help others: be of service to someone else. Get outside yourself and seek opportunities and new ways to help others in need.
5. EMOTIONAL DISTRESS – GET MORE HELP
The holidays aren’t easy for many people. Protecting your physical self, getting exercise and sleep, maintaining your mental health with self-care, planning and keeping your schedule, or guarding your finances all without feeling guilty can be difficult. For some it’s near impossible.
Emotional distress can be as much a part of the holiday season as are presents under the tree. Honestly, it may not be enough to vent to a trusted friend, go to support groups, and avoid toxic events to maintain personal well-being.
It’s most important that you get the help you need. Please reach out to someone. Speak your truth. It’s ok to feel vulnerable. It’s ok to not be ok.
Help is available. If you or a loved one needs extra support, resources, or is in emotional distress, please call any of these helpline numbers:
Your Life Iowa - Call (855)581-8111, text (855)895-8398 or chat at www.yourlifeiowa.org. We walk beside you so you’re never alone. When you don’t know who to turn to about a problem with alcohol, drugs, gambling, suicidal thoughts or mental health, Your Life Iowa is here for you 24/7. We provide free, confidential support and connect you to resources meant to help you get your life back on track.
988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline – Dial 988. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is now 988. Chat and text is also available 24/7 across the US at https://988lifeline.org/talk-to-someone-now/. The 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline provides free and confidential emotional support to people in suicidal crisis or emotional distress 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Crisis Test Line – Text NAMI to 741-741. Connect with a trained crisis counselor to receive free, 24/7 crisis support via text message.
National Domestic Violence Hotline – Call 800-799-SAFE(7233). Trained expert advocates are available 24/7 to provide confidential support to anyone experiencing domestic violence or seeking resources and information. Help is available in Spanish and other languages.
National Sexual Assault Hotline – Call 800-656-HOPE(4673). Connect with a trained staff member from a sexual assault service provider in your area that offers access to a rant of free services. Crisis chat support is available at Online Hotline. Free help, 24/7.
Southwest Iowa MDHS (Mental Health Disability Services) Region – Call 712-328-5645. If you need other services related to mental health or disability services, please reach out to the Southwest Iowa Region MHDS.