How You Can Protect Your Mental Health During the Holidays

The Help Santa Toy Parade took place on Saturday. While it was in my neighbourhood, I didn’t go. The main reason was because it was cold. Secondly, the holiday season can be a difficult time for my mental health.

I’ve had some fantastic holidays with family and friends, but I’ve also had some horrible holidays.

Take last Christmas, for example.

A good friend came over on Christmas Day. We exchanged gifts the day before, so we had coffee while I opened my presents. Shortly after he left, I started having chest pains and shortness of breath. I took a cab to the hospital and stayed in the ICU.

The next day, the doctor wanted me to stay in the hospital for a few more days, but I refused. I was prescribed antibiotics, which didn’t go well with my stomach. The rest of the holiday season was spent physically and mentally recovering.

January was also a difficult month. My rabbit died. My step-grandfather died, and I had to stay in the ER because nobody was available to take care of me at home.

So, right now, a part of my brain keeps replaying the events of the last holiday season. This time of year also reminds me of loved ones I miss. That includes family members, friends, kids I grew up with, and, more recently, my rabbit, which I had for ten years; her name was IHop.

As I mentioned, I’ve had some fantastic holiday seasons as well. When I was younger, I spent Christmas Day with my family. I’d leave CHEO for the day and go home to spend the day at my parents’ house. My mom and other family members did their best to make it memorable for me. More recently, including this past Christmas, I had a small group of friends over for a party, which was fun.

Unfortunately, it was overshadowed by the events that I described above.

Here’s where I think it gets weird, at least to me.

I love holiday specials like Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Frosty the Snowman, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, and other classics. Plus, I love Die Hard, Home Alone, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, and Elf.

I like decorating my tree and apartment, especially with a friend or a loved one. Shockingly, I like receiving Christmas presents, even though I sometimes feel guilty about them spending money on me, all because of the holidays.

This is from the guy who typically creates an Amazon Wish List for the holidays. I’m a rolling contradiction at times.

In my inner circle of friends, many experience some of the same issues I do regarding the holidays.

I minimize being on social media during the holidays because it can be challenging to see all the images of people with their families and Christmas decorations everywhere.

I don’t want to be a Grinch, but it’s hard.

As far as commenting on social media, some years, it’s felt like I was reaching out to others first, saying Happy Holidays. I’m not saying I should be on the top of everyone’s list, but that feeling of being left out is real to me . . .  I don’t like it, but that’s where my mind seems to go.

The struggle is real.

I have some suggestions for those struggling with the same thoughts and feelings that may help you get through the holidays. Please remember that everyone is different, and I’m not an expert.

– If you want a holiday party, do your best to invite those you’re comfortable with and feel confident they’ll show up. I understand that last-minute things happen, but do your best to prevent disappointments.

– If you don’t feel like decorating, don’t do it. If you have kids or family coming over, that’s a different situation. However, if you’re single or living alone, don’t feel like you have to decorate just because that’s what everyone else does.

– When it comes to shopping for presents, keep it simple. You don’t have to go overboard. If you do, a certain level of stress will be added. For example, if you spend $200 on a present, and the other person only spends $50 or less, that could be a huge disappointment. My advice is to keep it simple and support small businesses.

– Family gatherings can be stressful and uncomfortable for many, including myself. I want you to know that it’s ok to say no. If you don’t feel comfortable being around family, don’t. Now, if a family member travels from out of town just to see you, it’s still ok to say no.

– As far as social media is concerned, stick to Messenger, zoom calls, etc. Don’t waste your time scrolling on social media. All you’re doing is wasting your time and making yourself feel depressed by looking at other people celebrating without you. Why should you bother if they can’t even even say happy holiday to you? You could always say that you’re thinking of them or post something short on social media for everyone to see and let them respond if they want to.

During the holiday season and in general, it is crucial to protect yourself as much as possible. Your true friends and loved ones will understand. As a result, you and your mental health will have a better chance of staying healthy.

Things change, and circumstances can change. The next holiday season may be when you can celebrate with your loved ones, or maybe not. Perhaps you’ll meet someone special. Someone who’ll make you forget about your bad experiences over the holidays, or at least push them to the back of your mind.

Nobody knows what tomorrow will bring. Right now is the present, and you are the best gift you can give yourself.

Photo: iStock