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    Holiday Gatherings and Mental Health: What’s Your Plan?

    The holidays are supposed to be a time of joy, unity, and contentment. But for many, they are a time of great stress. For those struggling with mental health or substance abuse issues, the holiday season can be especially challenging.  

    To illustrate, let’s talk about a fictional client and scenario for a minute: Stephanie struggles with depression, anxiety, and substance abuse. 

    She has been sober for just under a year. Her family is loving but very dysfunctional. Every year her family has a large holiday gathering, with lots of drinking. Family members she hasn’t seen in a long time tend to hound her with personal questions.

    As the holiday gathering gets closer and closer, her anxiety gets greater and greater. She knows that she should attend; she loves her family, but she is unsure how the holiday gathering will impact her mental health. Her family can trigger her like nothing else can

    What Should Stephanie Do? 

    With some planning, it is possible to survive the holidays with your mental health intact–and even enjoy them! 

    The most crucial piece: Plan ahead! 

    Using strategies in advance, like setting boundaries, knowing your limits, having a support system in place, and discussing problems with a therapist, can ensure that you will survive holiday gatherings if you are struggling with mental health issues. 

    At Fearlessly Inspired Therapeutic Solutions, we are experienced in discussing how to survive the holiday season when dealing with mental health issues. 

    Here are 7 tips to help you get through your next holiday gathering. 

    1. Set Boundaries and Make a Plan to Uphold Them 

    Boundaries are an essential piece of upholding your mental health. However, it is easier to set them than keep them. Upholding them is the challenging part, especially when family is involved. 

    The holidays are no different. 

    Sometimes it can be helpful to write them down on paper. This can help you to frame them and create realistic, healthy boundaries and goals. 

    If you have family issues, decide beforehand what topics you will or won’t discuss with family members–and do your best to avoid any emotional triggers.

    Prepare some conversational lines in advance–these are things you can say if you feel uncomfortable or want to get out of a conversation. Be prepared for how to react if these lines are not well received. 

    Surviving the holidays is possible when you have mental health or substance abuse issues; you just need to be prepared and set healthy boundariesWith the right plan in place, you can get through the season with your mental health intact.

    2. Know Your Limits Before You Go 

    Learn how to identify your limits and what to look out for in yourself.

    This can be experiencing feelings of discomfort, when people start to argue, or when you are getting asked too many intrusive questions. 

    Pay close attention to your emotions and how your body is responding. Acknowledge any anxiety or depression you might be feeling in response to difficult family issues or conversations, 

    Learn when you are at your limit and remind yourself–no one is making you be there for a holiday gathering. It is OKAY to take a break or step out for a breather

    It is also okay to leave early if necessary. If you are struggling to give yourself permission to do this, we give you permission to leave early! It is crucial for your well-being that you know when to remove yourself from situations that become too overwhelming. 

    Remember that you know your limits best, so don’t hesitate to take care of yourself first.

    3. Have a Support System in Place 

    It is especially helpful to have a support system in place before attending holiday gatherings. Plan to have a friend or family member who understands your situation, and make sure they are available around the time of your holiday gathering. Call them if things get out of hand. 

    Reach out to them before, after, or during a holiday event, so that you can discuss personal, mental health, or family issues as they arise. 

    You can also bring them along with you, if possible. 

    For someone who is in recovery from alcoholism or addiction, this can look like attending meetings or support groups before and/or holiday gatherings.

    Having a support system in place can allow you to feel a sense of safety and security during any holiday gathering. 

    4. Have an Exit Strategy 

    Before going to a holiday gathering, have an exit strategy in place. 

    A useful tip here is driving yourself rather than carpooling with a friend or family member. This way, you can leave early if necessary without having to worry about whether your carpool partner wants to leave early or not.

    Even if you think you are unlikely to use your exit strategy, having one in place can grant you a sense of control and peace of mind

    5. Practice Self-Care

    It’s also important to remember to take care of yourself, especially during the holidays.

    To prepare you for some difficult situations, here are some helpful self-care tips: 

    • Sleep well. This is an important one. There is nothing worse than dealing with an intrusive family when running on 4 hours of sleep. 

    • Mindfulness techniques, breathing exercises, and meditation. If you don’t have any experience meditating, there are some great, easy, and free guided meditations you can find on Youtube and on the app Insight Timer

    • Make sure you have some downtime before and after the holiday gathering. This is your chance to take a breather, get organized, and just relax.

    • Take some time for yourself during the holiday event. Whether it’s taking a few minutes to step outside for fresh air or just sitting down with a cup of coffee while everyone chats, do your best to carve out some “me” time.

    • Stay hydrated. This one sounds overly simplistic, but is very important. Many people are chronically dehydrated and don’t realize it. Not drinking enough water can make you feel crummy and irritable. 

    Never downplay the impact of sleep, healthy eating, and hydration on your mental health. These things have more of an impact than you might realize. 

    6. Talk With Your Therapist 

    Run through these things with your therapist. If you have been honest with them, they will understand your family system and your mental health needs. 

    They can help you create a plan for setting and upholding boundaries, knowing your limits, and having solid support systems in place. 

    7. Seek Professional Help if Needed

    If you do not have a therapist you can trust, now may be just the right time to get one.

    The right therapist can help you to:

    • Learn to set healthy boundaries.

    • Learn healthy coping skills. 

    • Change negative ways of thinking. 

    • Overcome trauma and past wounds.

    • Improve your relationships with others.

    • Improve your relationship with yourself. 

    • Help you with depression, anxiety, addiction issues, or other disorders. 

    • Address any other issues or problems that are keeping you from being your best self! 

    When is the Right Time to Find a Therapist?

    If you can relate to anything we have talked about, you may be wondering–when is the right time to find a therapist?

    The simple answer: When do you want to start improving yourself, stop struggling, and become your best self? 

    There is no better time to get a therapist than right now. 

    The Bottom Line

    The bottom line–it is possible to have a good experience at a holiday gathering. So long as you plan ahead. 

    Having a plan for setting and upholding boundaries, knowing your limits in advance, having an exit strategy, and seeking help from a therapist if needed will allow you to get through your gatherings this holiday season. 

    With these tips, you can have a positive, and even enjoyable, experience this holiday season. 

    If you have any questions about therapy, getting through the holidays, or how a therapist can help, book your appointment now https://fearlesslyinspired.clientsecure.me/ or call 301-750-1065 to schedule an appointment.