It’s time to let go of the pressure and focus on the meaning and restfulness of this time of the year
For many people, the holidays are a time for relaxation, hope, family, and friends. Hallmark movies portray Christmas as a season to take a break from your big-city job and go back to your picture-perfect home town. Between trying to live up to the idealized version we see on screen and the busyness that comes with trying to spend time with your loved ones, the holiday season can come with a lot of pressure. The gifts, the food, and the decorations all must look a certain way. Not only does the stress of trying to achieve this festive Hallmark perfection detract from the meaning and restfulness of this time, but it can exacerbate hardships that people face year-round.
For anyone struggling with mental health issues, the holidays can be a sore subject. In recent years, I’ve found it exhausting to put on a happy face all month and pretend I was enjoying myself at family gatherings. After the fact, I felt guilty that I couldn’t enjoy this time with my loved ones. The guilt led to overwhelming isolation. But, according to the Canadian Mental Health Association, I’m not alone in feeling like this; 52 per cent of Canadians reported that they’ve struggled with their mental health and feelings of isolation during this time of year.
This article is for anyone who feels similar to me and may be struggling over the holidays. I’m here to tell you that whatever holidays you celebrate, they don’t have to be perfect, and it’s okay to be honest about struggling with mental health issues. In the long run, it’s better for everyone if you communicate your feelings. Your loved ones can help support you, and having open conversations with them can lessen the burden of putting on a happy face .
As the Canadian Mental Health Association suggests, coping with stress and protecting your mental well-being over the holidays starts with ignoring comparison and judgement. You are not obligated to celebrate like everyone else or to try to achieve the perfect holiday. Instead, focus on what you enjoy about the holidays and prioritize your needs — don’t forget sleep, exercise, and self-care.
My overall suggestion is to focus on staying connected to yourself and others. The holidays can be an isolating time if you feel pressured to live up to unrealistic expectations of festive fun, and this is especially true for those dealing with mental health issues. It’s important to do special things for yourself and spend time with loved ones in a way that feels good to you. You can watch your favourite movies, do a holiday craft, or incorporate your favourite meal into Christmas dinner. Another idea is to volunteer or reach out to others who need connection. Every holiday, my family volunteers with my church to compile gifts for children in need. This is a highlight of every year because even when I’m struggling myself, it feels good to give back to the community. By letting go of the idea of a perfect Hallmark holiday season, you can prioritize your mental health while still creating memories that will last forever and staying connected to the spirit of love and community.