For many of us, we experience the holidays through a lens of merriness and joy, good food, social gatherings and fun festivities (albeit with a natural amount of stress or anxiety).
For those who struggle with chronic mental health conditions, though, this can be the most mentally challenging time of year. A season that is not only exhausting but difficult to navigate and can feel almost painful to be a part of.
Elvis himself wrote an entire song about feeling blue during Christmas time; it’s not uncommon, and if you have a family member who struggles similarly during the holidays, they aren’t alone.
In this article, we’re going to focus on how the family members of those who have chronic mental health issues can better support them during the holidays, and we’re going to give you the six best ways to do so.
How to approach family support
One of the most important aspects of being there for your loved ones during the holidays is to remember you are (most likely) not qualified to actually address their mental health issues.
Well-intentioned people commonly make the mistake of assuming the role of “therapist” or “fixer” for their loved one, but this isn’t as helpful as they may think, and it’s an unhealthy dynamic to develop. Mental health is an incredibly delicate part of our lives, and those who are struggling with chronic mental health conditions have a more fragile psyche than normal.
Giving advice you aren’t qualified to give or encouraging them to do things that might not be as beneficial as you think is not only risky but can be dangerous. That’s why we’ve come up with a list of the safest, healthiest, most practical ways you can support your loved one during the holiday season.
Mental health family support
1. Check in regularly
Without micromanaging them or coming across as if you’re treating them like they’re made of glass, regularly checking in with your loved one can go a long way. Despite smartphones, webcams and the internet has made communication easier than ever, our society has never been more disconnected.
If you’re in person with them during the holidays, consider scheduling a set day or time that you two can grab coffee or dinner, or swing by to see them more frequently. If you’re going to be spending the holidays apart, you can choose a time each week to have a virtual coffee date or simply form more of a habit of calling them more often.
2. Suggest and join in activities
People who are struggling with chronic mental health conditions often experience a lack of interest in the world around them. They may not have the discipline or motivation to engage in activities by themselves, so you can always offer to join in with them.
Being the holiday season, there are plenty of winter activities you can do together, including:
Going on for a walk through an indoor botanical garden
Attending a holiday concert or a ballet
Driving down a neighborhood of Christmas lights
Those examples are just a few of the things you can do to get your friend or loved one out of the house and into the holiday spirit.
3. Encourage self-care and nutrition
Certain mental health conditions (most notably, depression) make it very hard for people to take care of themselves, even in the most basic of ways. They may find themselves struggling with basic hygiene or even feeding themselves the proper meals and food.
In addition to being a role model, be sure to gently encourage them to practice self-care in their own lives. You can share healthy recipes or invite them over for dinner (and cook a healthy meal), join in a home spa day with them and offer to take them grocery shopping.
4. Don’t place unnecessary pressure
There’s a fine line between enthusiastically encouraging your loved one to do something and pushing to the point where you aren’t respecting their “no.” On the other hand, many individuals who experience chronic anxiety struggle to say no and may need reassurance that it’s okay not to attend every gathering or activity to which they’re invited to.
Be patient and loving, continue to encourage them, but also respect their boundaries.
5. Reach out when you (or they) need help
If someone in your life is experiencing significant depression, anxiety, stress or loneliness, one of the best steps you can take is to simply reach out for professional help.
Tapestry is a premier behavioral and mental health rehabilitation center in North Carolina and Pennsylvania, specializing in helping adults and adolescents not only recover from their conditions but heal their lives. Because we believe in a client-focused approach, every treatment plan is fully tailored to meet and satisfy your individual needs, from enrollment all the way through treatment.