By Samantha Johnson Local Journalism Initiative Reporter on December 22, 2023.
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
While the Holiday Season is greeted with anticipation, there are also additional stresses at this time of year. Trenton Akers, a registered social worker with clinical specialization at Psynergy Centre, explained there is a higher risk of issues arising at this time of year. Being mindful of yourself and where you are on the mental health continuum – thriving, struggling or in need of help – is important while also knowing what you can do for yourself and what can you ask of others to do for you.
Frequent personal check-ins are recommended, particularly before attending functions or parties that can be challenging. Do you need to attend for the whole event, or can you pop in for a short period of time? If alcohol is being consumed, are you imbibing to engage in the Holiday spirit or is it self-medication? The same question can be asked in regards to food.
A frequent joke told around this time of year is around using any means necessary to cope with particular family members.
“There is this expectation that as family members, we need to get together and have this Hallmark moment,” stated Akers. “If you know you are going to go somewhere and your uncle, for example, is going to drive you nuts â€¦ so maybe you only spend five minutes with him or maybe you phone him up, wish him Happy Holidays, have a five-to-15-minute phone call where it’s not going to get crazy. Ask yourself how much of this can I reasonably do? When you look at the Holidays, we look at budgeting for gifts, we also want to budget for our mental health.”
This could involve taking a step back or time out, determining if attending or doing something you might not enjoy is worth the mental and emotional cost. To understand what emotions are being felt, it helps to link them with the sensations.
“I’ll talk to people about primary and secondary emotions where the primary is what you are feeling and sometimes the secondary emotion is how it is coming out,” explained Akers. “If I’m experiencing a lot of anger or frustration, what is below that? What is going on there? What do I need right now? Kids can get overwhelmed, they may be crying but it’s not because they are upset but because they are outside their window of tolerance and they need to step away, so we as adults need to do that too.”
Sometimes there is an idealized version of how things can be, particularly for those with children who want to give them the best Christmas ever. From the perspective of the kids, is it better to become entrapped by commercialism or would they rather you spend quality time with them?
“What that really looks like? Does it really need to involve putting yourself into debt or can it be something as simple as I’m going to take time with them and I’m going to engage the Holiday spirit that way,” said Akers.
The key is preparing ahead of time for the Holidays and knowing who the people are you can turn to and what to do when feeling overwhelmed.
“When we are overwhelmed, we don’t always make the best decisions,” stated Akers. “This is when we become disengaged and we are operating on the amygdala and hippocampus, so we are operating from memory and instinct.”
Having a plan in place ahead of time for activities to do when feeling anxious or overwhelmed can help. Going for a walk, taking a hot bath, checking in with someone who understands you, turning off the Christmas music and listening to something either uplifting or calming depending on your need. It could be meditation, yoga, breathing exercises or a long workout. The key is to acknowledge in advance that taking time out for yourself will improve your Holiday Season experience and knowing in advance what works and what doesn’t.
Akers cohosts the Humanizing Mental Health podcast, which can be found on Apple and Spotify or visit http://www.facebook.com/HumanizingMentalHealth.