Are the holiday blues bogging you down? Find out how you can manage your emotions better so that you can still enjoy the Christmas season.
If you find yourself feeling persistently sad, anxious, or hopeless around Christmas time, seek professional help. MindNation psychologists are available for teletherapy sessions 24/7 (even during the holidays). Book a session now through https://bit.ly/mn-chat.
The COVID-19 pandemic has changed how many of us are celebrating the holidays. As we struggle with financial insecurity, the death of loved ones, and fear of contracting the disease, we may be feeling additional stress, sadness, or anxiety instead of love, peace, and joy.
“First of all, it’s completely normal if you do not feel happy during what is supposed to be the happiest time of the year,” says Riyan Portuguez, RPsy RPsm (also known as The Millennial Psychologist). “Studies have shown that the holidays can trigger or exacerbate feelings of isolation, grief, and sadness, and anxiety.”
That being said, there are things you can do to minimize the stress and depression that you may be feeling during the holidays.
Plan ahead. When stress is at its peak, it’s hard to stop and regroup. So for next year, try to prevent strong emotions from hitting you hard during the holidays by doing all your Christmas preparations before December comes around. “This way, you don’t have to go out as much during the weeks leading up to Christmas and see all the decorations or hear the music, all of which can trigger your depression,” says Riyan.
Reduce social media use. When you are bombarded with images of other people enjoying time with their loved ones, enjoying their new gifts, or eating yummy food that you cannot afford, you will be reminded of what you don’t have and feel worse instead of happy. Take a social media break for your own peace of mind.
Remember the reason for the season. “If you are feeling down because you feel pressured to give gifts even though you have limited funds, reframe your thinking. Remind yourself of the things that matter — that you still have friends and/or family who care for you, that you have a house, food on the table, that you are alive — and celebrate those,” points out Riyan. “Don’t let the idea that Christmas has to be commemorated a certain way rule your life.”
Continue to do self-care. Exercise, sleep well, and eat healthy meals throughout the holidays. Overindulging will only compound your stress and guilt.
Acknowledge your feelings. If someone close to you has recently died or you can’t be with loved ones because of physical distancing measures, realize that it’s normal to feel sadness and grief. “Don’t force yourself to be happy just because it’s the holiday season,” says Riyan. “Cry if you want to cry.”
Reach out. “If you are feeling isolated or lonely, ask a trusted friend or family member to spend time with you, even just virtually,” suggests Riyan. “Talking to them will ease your concerns and offer you support and companionship during this stressful time.”
Don’t let the holidays become something you dread. Instead, take steps to prevent the stress and depression that can descend during the holidays. With a little planning and some positive thinking, you can find peace and joy during the holidays.
While understanding and awareness about mental health and its issues has increased in the recent years, we are sure there are still some topics that need clarification. As part of our celebration of World Mental Health Month this October, we asked MindNation’s go-to psychologist Riyan Portuguez RPsy RPm (also known as Your Millennial Psychologist) to answer the 10 most common questions about mental health and wellness:
What is mental health?
Riyan: Mental health is the science of self-love. It’s about honoring your emotions and boundaries, and allowing yourself to receive proper and evidence-based care so that you attain personal growth, maximize productivity, and make significant contributions to your community.
What causes mental health problems?
Riyan: Mental health is a complicated matter, varies from person to person, and occurs from the interaction of the following factors:
Neuro-biological (i.e.chemical imbalances in the brain, genetic predispositions to certain disorders that may be triggered by stress or trauma)
Socio-cultural (i.e. a dysfunctional family life, substance abuse)
Psychological (i.e. severe psychological trauma, neglect)
How can I tell if someone I love has a mental health concern?
Riyan: If your loved one exhibits the following warning signs for two weeks or more, you are right to be concerned:
Significant changes in their behavior, such as extreme angry outbursts or bouts of sadness
Withdrawal from friends and other normal activities
No longer pays attention to grooming and/or personal hygiene
Confused thinking, inability to concentrate, lapses at work
Significant weight gain or loss, loss of appetite or overeating
Talks about doing harm to themselves or to others. Suicidal thinking may be active (i.e. “I want to end my life”) or passive (“I don’t want to wake up tomorrow.”)
When you are in doubt about your friend’s condition, always seek the assistance of a mental health professional.
How can I tell if I have a mental health problem?
Riyan: The answer is the same as the above, although it can be harder to recognize the warning signs if you are talking about yourself. This is especially true if you are the type of person who is frequently perceived by others as “strong,” or if you are the one always providing help to others. Listen to friends and family and keep an open mind if they express concern about the state of your mental health.
I feel strong, negative emotions like anger and fear sometimes; does this mean I need to see a therapist as soon as possible?
Riyan: Not right away. Emotions, even the negative ones, are a normal part of life, so go ahead and allow yourself to feel them and to lose yourself in them. Suppressing or dismissing these emotions because they are “bad” will only lead to emotional or psychological disorders. But if you experience negative emotions recurring too often or last more than two weeks, or you feel they are getting stronger or more out of control, then seek help.
What is the difference between sadness and depression?
Riyan: Sadness is an emotion. It is a response to a specific situation — something happened that made you sad. But you are still able to function (i.e. work, do homework) and experience other emotions (i.e. you feel happy when friends comfort you). It usually goes away after a few days.
On the other hand, depression is a mental illness. It is pervasive sadness — it affects all other areas of your life, like your work and relationships with others. There is also no known or specific trigger — you don’t even know why you feel sad anymore — and it is usually accompanied by feelings of apathy and numbness.
What is the difference between fear and anxiety?
Riyan: Similar to sadness, fear is an emotion caused by something that is in the present and it is specific — there is an imminent situation that causes you to feel afraid, but you are still able to do normal things like eat, sleep, or work. Once the source of fear passes, you don’t think about it anymore.
Anxiety is a mental disorder — it is an intense level of fear or worry about something that will occur in the future. You anticipate that something terrible will happen. People with anxiety tend to exhibit the following behaviors:
Unhelpful thinking patterns — i.e. “What if–?” scenarios, “Should” and “Must” statements
Magnification — the source of fear is insignificant but in the person’s mind, it is catastrophic
Overgeneralization — the problem attaches itself to all other parts of their lives (i.e. “I did poorly at work” becomes “I am such a loser”)
Physical symptoms such as hyperventilating and heart palpitations
People experiencing normal fear will also have negative thoughts, but after awhile they will follow these up with questions or narratives that will challenge those negative beliefs and cultivate optimism. For example, someone whose boss gives them a difficult task will worry about doing well, but after some time will figure out strategies to cope. And once the difficult task has been completed, they move on to the next assignment.
What is the difference between a psychologist, psychiatrist, and therapist? How do I know which is the right one for me?
Riyan: A psychiatrist is permitted to prescribe medicine, so their focus is on treating the neurobiological aspect of mental disorders. Psychologists cannot prescribe medication, and will focus on the patient’s sociocultural factors before diagnosing the illness. They are also therapists because they are the ones who create the interventions or treatment plans for patients.
Psychologists and psychiatrists work together. If psychologists feel that the physical symptoms of a patient are strong, they may refer the person to a psychiatrist first to lessen the symptoms, then ask him or her to come back to continue with other forms of therapy.
Is there a way I can prevent mental health problems?
Riyan: Practice healthy lifestyle and self-care habits like eating the proper diet, frequently exercising, and getting enough sleep. Get help whenever you feel overwhelmed by your problems, beginning with talking to friends and family. Don’t be afraid to consult a mental health professional if the need calls for it.
Is there a cure for mental health problems?
Riyan: If by “cure” you mean it will disappear forever, then the answer is “no.” However, mental health problems are treatable. There are many people who recover, but they need to continuously work with psychologists or monitor their lifestyle to reduce incidences of relapse.
And always remember that having a mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of. It is similar to having eyesight problems — there is no cure for nearsightedness, but you can wear corrective lenses and carry on normally for the rest of your life.
Do you have other questions or concerns about mental health? Type them in the comments below and we’ll try to address it in future articles.
CONTENT WARNING: This article includes descriptions of suicide that may disturb some readers
If comforting a sad friend is hard, supporting someone who has lost a loved one to suicide is especially difficult and awkward. Often times, the grieving person is not just depressed — they may also be feeling a mix of guilt, confusion, anger, or shame; worse, he may even have suicidal thoughts themselves.
In such cases, the key to helping your friend through this difficult loss is to offer a listening ear. Sit with your friend and listen to the story and feelings in a nonjudgmental way, without trying to problem-solve.
1. Address the elephant in the room.
Example: “I heard __ died by suicide; how are you?” is one way to start the conversation. Using the word “suicide” can be scary, but when you show your friend that that you are able to talk more openly about what happened, it eases the stigma and encourages him to open up.
2. Express your concern and don’t hide your feelings.
Even if you do not have all the answers, show your friend that you are aware that the death has affected him, and that you are there when he needs help. Example: “I’m sorry to hear that this happened. I’m not sure what to say, but I am here when you need me. Tell me what I can do.”
3. Be an active listener.
Often finding the right words is less important than letting your friend express himself. While you should never try to force your friend to open up when he is not ready, being able to have this conversation when he is ready is important.
Some strategies to be an active listener include:
Let your friend know that whatever he is feeling is OK — it’s okay to cry, become angry, or break down in front of you. Your friend should feel free to express feelings knowing that you are willing to listen without judgment, argument, or criticism.
Communicate non-verbally. If your friend is not yet ready to talk or you don’t know what to say, you can still show your support through eye contact, a squeeze of the hand, or a reassuring hug.
If you’ve gone through a similar loss, share your own experience, if you think it would help. However, don’t give unsolicited advice, claim to “know” what the person is feeling, or compare your grief to his or her.
DON’T say the following:
1. “I know how you feel.”
We can never know how another person may feel. It’s more helpful to ask your friend how he feels.
2.“There’s so much to be thankful for.”
Part of grieving is being able to experience the feelings of sadness and loss.
3.“He is in a better place now.”
Your friend may or may not share your religious beliefs. It’s best to keep your personal spiritual beliefs to yourself unless asked.
Watch Out for the Following Warning Signs:
If you notice any of the following warning signs after the initial loss, especially if they continue for more than two months, or if you feel that your friend is in danger of committing suicide himself, encourage him to seek counseling or connect him to suicide survivor support group resources.
Extreme focus on the death
Talking about the need to escape the pain
Persistent bitterness, anger, or guilt
Difficulty making it to class and declining grades
A lack of concern for his/her personal welfare
Neglecting personal hygiene
Increase in alcohol or drug use
Inability to enjoy life
Withdrawal from others
Constant feelings of hopelessness
Talking about dying or attempting suicide
To avoid seeming invasive, state your feelings instead of outrightly telling your friend what to do: “I am worried that you aren’t sleeping. There are resources online that can help you.”
Remember that grief after losing someone to suicide can feel like a rollercoaster, full of intense ups and downs and everything in-between. People will never fully “get over” their loss, but over time, with your support, they can begin to heal.
We can all help prevent suicide. If you or a loved one is in distress, MindNation psychologists are available 24/7 for teletherapy sessions. Book a session now thru bit.ly/mn-chat.