If you’re hosting a holiday dinner you’ve likely already considered who’s coming and what’s on the menu. What you may not have thought about yet is how the holidays can affect those with a mental illness. Given that one in five U.S. adults experience some form of mental illness each year, it is something worth keeping in mind when preparing.
The holidays, while often wonderful and exciting, can also be stressful and overwhelming as they take us out of our routines. They can be particularly nerve-racking for you as the host, especially if you feel responsible for everyone else’s good time.
As the host, you can’t control everything, but there are some things you can do to make the holidays a little less stressful for everyone, most importantly yourself.
First, do some holiday-season prep work. In the days or weeks leading up to your guest’s arrival, pay particular attention to your own self-care and mental health needs:
- Reflect. Recognize how past holidays and family gatherings have impacted you. Many report that holidays tend to activate their perfectionism and/or tendency to engage in negative social comparisons (in-person AND online). Others note disruptions to sleep or appetite, or increased negative body image thoughts. A lot of individuals notice more anxiety or changes in mood. If you can identify with any of these changes in mood or behavior, then you have good reason to implement some preemptive holiday support.
- Ask for Help. You can do this is in any number of ways that make sense to you, but you might want to start by requesting extra appointments with your therapist if you have one, by attending a local support group or by enlisting the support of friends. Schedule a relaxing meet-up with a good listener the week before your gathering. Text a funny friend to let them know your stress levels get high around the holidays and you could use some extra humor. Ask guests to bring a side dish so you don’t have as much to do. Putting these key supports in place prior to the holiday is the best gift you can give yourself.
- Utilize helpful tools. If you’ve struggled with anxiety, depression, eating disorders, or other mental health problems in the past, revisit old coping skills you’ve found to be effective. Buy yourself a new journal and start scribbling out your thoughts before bed each night. Download a meditation app on your phone to use each morning, or start practicing deep breathing strategies on your lunch break. Make a calming playlist on iTunes or Spotify. Create some art. Commit to an earlier bed time in the weeks leading up to the holiday to help provide balance. Whatever it is, start coping. Our brains need time to establish new thought patterns; you’ll be more likely to turn to the healthy coping skills on Thanksgiving Day if you’ve been practicing them for weeks in advance.
Stay tuned for Part 2 of this post on Wednesday, November 25