Mental Health and the Holidays

TW: Discussion of Suicide

I already had planned on posting content around self-care for the holiday season, because I know for me when you combine my existing depression and anxiety with the added effects of seasonal depression and the additional stressors of The Holidays™, the winter months are tough. 

And then, this past week, I lost a friend. A friend who I wish I had reached out to more since leaving CA. A friend who was an absolute beacon of fun, joy, and silliness whenever I saw him, but who also was kind and big-hearted and willing to listen and to hug. A friend whose brain tricked him into believing the only way things would get better would be to leave life behind. 

Depression lies. Depression kills. Only a very few people knew he had been struggling. Many of us had no idea. It was a harsh reminder of the fact that what you see on the outside is never someone’s full story.

We’ve been having an online memorial – everyone posting photos and videos and stories and memories. I hope my friend can see all the love and joy he brought to everyone.

I’m the lucky one right now. My mental health is doing better than normal, even with the added seasonal stuff. I’m blessed to have the right combination of meds, support, and coping mechanisms that my brain isn’t as MUCH of a lying liar right now. 

So I’m still going to talk about mental health and seasonal depression and taking care of yourself. And I’m going to add information about suicide statistics and where you can reach out if you need help. Please know that no matter how dark it may seem right now, you matter and your life is valuable. 

Mental health and the holidays

From dealing with family that is difficult or non-accepting or just large and loud, to demands on your time and expectations around social gatherings, to dealing with overwhelming crowds everywhere you go, to weather being colder and days being shorter, there are a lot of additional stressors over the winter months. 

My 4 Main Tips to Get Through:

  • Acknowledge your feelings and be honest with yourself about them. Know your limits and needs. Talk to your therapist BEFORE the holidays about your feelings and concerns. Screw anyone else’s expectations – you know you best. 
  • Plan ahead – practice saying no and setting boundaries. Have plans and coping mechanisms for various levels of overwhelm and anxiety. If you know you don’t handle spontaneity well, make sure you have holiday gatherings and plans scheduled and on your calendar so you can prepare for them. 
  • If you are able to, let your family and friends know you’re having a hard time. Share articles and resources. Connect with your support network. Reach out if you are feeling isolated – find community and share.
  • Be gentle with yourself. Take breaks, schedule down time to recover from overwhelm. Reward yourself for little things and small successes. Celebrate every day you get through. 

Two other great articles about this:

Surviving the Holidays with Mental Illness

Seasonal Depression

The National Institute of Mental Health defines Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) as a type of depression that typically worsens in the late fall and early winter and improves during the spring and summer. 

If you are already struggling with mental illness, SAD can be even worse. I thought I had avoided it mostly this year, until I realized how much more I was sleeping and wanting to sleep. My prevalent mood has been “give me a heavy blanket and let me cocoon in it till March”. I’ve had to remind myself, and I’ll remind you too – Go easy on yourself. It’s okay to move a little slower and sleep a little more, beating yourself up won’t help. 

In addition to your meds, your mental health providers, and your year-round coping mechanisms, another resource that is often suggested (especially if you live farther North where it’s more dark than light these days) is to use artificial light for a bit each day. Here’s a great list of some well-reviewed options. 

Apps for Mental Health

In this digital age, there are now dozens and dozens of apps designed to help us manage our mental health. Here’s a list that covers 25 of them. Do you know of one not on this list that helps you? Please share! 

When it feels like there is only one way out. 

I have been there. I have felt like the only way to make things better is to go away for good. I have SO MANY loved ones who have attempted or planned or at least seriously considered. And yes, ones who went through with it. 

It’s heartbreaking to know that someone believed things were that hopeless. It’s incredibly painful to be in that place yourself. Looking back, I can remember how dark a place my mind was, and also looking back at the people and things in my life, I can’t believe how convinced I was that life wasn’t worth living. Again, that’s what your lying, misfiring brain will tell you though. It’s convincing. It’s hard to fight. It’s hard to admit you aren’t okay and need help. 

Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the US. Male-identified people are more prone to hide their feelings and suffering, and more die by suicide than female identified people. When we move to the realm of queer-identifying people, the number of attempts and deaths is even more proportionately high – 22-43% of transgender people have reported attempting suicide. Exact numbers of suicides are hard to track accurately as gender identity is not recorded on death certificates, as well as people whose families don’t acknowledge their trans status and record their deaths with their deadname and/or assigned-at-birth gender. 

Suicide Prevention App: notOK is a free app available on iOS and Android. The app features a large, red button that can be activated to let your support network know help is needed. Users can add up to five trusted contacts as part of their support group so when they hit the digital panic button, a message along with their current GPS location is sent to their contacts. The message reads: “Hey, I’m not OK! Please call, text, or come find me.”

If you are struggling, and feel you don’t have anyone in your life you can reach out to, please reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 

1-800-273-8255

Don’t feel up to talking on the phone? They also offer online chat. 

There’s also a Crisis Text Line (text HELLO to 741741). 

You are not alone. You are valuable. You are worth it. You matter.

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