Monday, December 14, 2009

Happy Holidays

It’s The Holidays, Again!

It’s that time of year again: The Holidays.

The time from Thanksgiving until New Year’s Day is probably the most stressful period of the year. Expectations are high; reality is low. The pressure to perform has become so great that many people are opting out.

Probably most stressful are the expected family gatherings. These events can be hard. Let’s be honest, do we really know all those cousins that we only see once a year? And, again being honest, do we sometimes just want to skip the whole affair?

If it’s tough for us, imagine for a moment what it must be like for our loved one living with a mental health issue. Strangers milling around, hugs and kisses from those strangers, and noise everywhere. Some of our loved ones just can’t handle so much input at once.

Then there’s the lack of understanding. Distant relatives often don’t understand what living with a mental health issue is like. A holiday party is usually not the place to try and explain what it means for our son, daughter, brother, or sister to hear voices or to have unusual fears of people.

One way you can help your loved one is by not forcing attendance at these events.  Allow your love to decide whether or not to attend the family Christmas dinner. If it makes them more comfortable then, so be it!

However, if they do decide to go, allow your loved one to leave anytime during the party. Maybe a short visit with everyone will be o.k., but to sit down at the table with 20 strangers may be just too much to ask for.

Sometimes our loved one wants to be part of the preparation, but not part of the main event.  This is a good way to be a part of the celebration without having the stress of the family gathering or high expectations of the day.

Remember your loved one’s mental well-being is more important than a possible offense to a third cousin!


Holidays are hard. Crowded schedules, family expectations, self expectations, and physical and emotional drain.

For our loved ones, all the stress of the holidays is even worse. While we are planning joyous celebrations, our family member may be just trying to deal with the daily struggles of their own life.

One of the definitions of struggle is “ to make great physical effort.” It is great effort for someone living with a mental health issue. Trying to maintain a sense of normalcy is hard.

Unwittingly we have expectations for our loved ones during the holidays. This year, maybe this year, nothing will happen. Maybe this year, there won’t be an “incident.” Maybe this year, everyone will enjoy the holiday gathering. Maybe this year, it will be a Hallmark holiday.

Expectations from extended family can even be higher. Those who aren’t with our loved one all year don’t understand the struggle. Often they are overcome by stigma. Or, they fall victim to misinformation.

Whatever your holiday celebration, it can be anything but holly, jolly. We’ll be sharing some tips to help you and help our loved one survive the struggle of the holidays through health and wellness.
Take care of yourself

With so much to do and so much on your mind, you can forget about yourself. After all self-care isn’t on your to-do list. And, for too many of us – especially moms – self care seems, well, selfish.

Here are some ideas to care for yourself, so you can care for your loved one. And, both of you can enjoy friends and family during the holiday season.

1.    Get plenty of rest

Even if you have overnight guests, don’t feel like you have to stay up all night. Having guests is hard work. Get some rest so you can enjoy the visit; rather than looking forward to the day they leave.

You can’t make it through that to-do list if you don’t have the energy to do so.
No one appreciates a tired, crabby you.

2.    Cut down that to-do list

Determine what is essential and important. Everything else goes to the hope list.

To cut down the list: 1) Put it in order of priority. What is important to you and your family? 2) Draw a line in the middle of the list. 3) Cross off everything in the bottom half of the list. Transfer those items to your hope list if you’d like.

Look at what’s left. Decide what you must do, and what others can do. Your family member may want to be involved with some of the holiday task and traditions. This is one way to be involved without having to meet other’s expectations.

3.    Watch your diet

Be careful with all the holiday treats – candy, pies, cookies. Just the over indulgence in this area can make you physically tired and have less energy to cope.

Don’t over eat at the wonderful holiday dinner. Limit portions and slowly enjoy what’s on your plate.

Limit alcohol intake. Go ahead; toast the New Year with a glass of wine. After that drink non-alcoholic beverages. Alcohol can dehydrate your system, deplete other nutrients, and you’ll feel worse and have less energy.

Just these three simple steps will help you have the energy and emotional stamina to help your loved one navigate the holiday stress. (Article and tips derived from

Wishing you and your family a happy, healthy and safe holiday!!

Joel and April

Nipissing Family Program