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October 28, 2022

The Holidays and Your Mental Health

If you are anything like our Avance Care Behavioral Health team, you have spent an inordinate amount of time recently wondering where this year went.  We are convinced we all spent 2022 catching up on the things we couldn’t do in the previous 2 years due to COVID and so, it makes sense that trying to cram approximately two years of living into one year will absolutely result in an extremely overbooked year that seems like a blurry whirlwind.

Nonetheless, we now find ourselves in the month of November which means that the holiday season is fast approaching and that the accompanying increased stress and anxiety that seems to grip everyone is fast approaching as well.  And speaking of cramming a lifetime of activity into half the time and then feeling overbooked! Why do we do this to ourselves every year despite the annual promise to scale back the next year?

The answer lies in the human tendency to compare themselves with others. From an evolutionary perspective, self-comparison served to ensure that we kept up with the rest of the “pack”.  Packs provided safety from predators and more frequent food.  In contemporary times the human tendency to compare has less to do about survival and more to do with capitalism.  It is the reason why social media has become a huge social problem and why individuals make so much money creating and using it as a platform.

So how is this relevant to the holiday stress that is so prevalent around this time of year?  Think about how the holidays and family are portrayed in all of the movies and television shows.  What happens if your world in no way looks like what is portrayed in the movies?  What happens if you are anything other than Christian?  What happens if your family structure is extremely small.  The implication of these shows is that there is only one way to experience joy during the season and that most people have what they are portraying.  It essentially exploits our human tendency to compare and makes us feel like “the outsider.”

So, how do we tend to behave during these times that is relevant to struggling with mental health?  Well, there are two ways people respond:  they either overcompensate to try to fit their holiday experience into what is portrayed or they simply give up and give into the feeling of “otherness”.  The other way people tend to cope in the comparisons is to try to “other” everyone else.  In essence, twisting the tendency to compare and taking it one step further to judgment because comparisons ultimately result in judgment against ourselves or the others.

Through Acceptance Commitment Therapy, we can alter our perspective in 4 ways:

  • Acceptance that #1, that we live in a capitalist country that seeks to “sell” things whether it is based on fact or fiction.
  • Acceptance that #2, that everyone in America does not celebrate Christmas and ascribe to a religion other than Christianity.
  • Acceptance that #3, everyone does not have the money to purchase elaborate lights on the house, an endless bounty of food for the table, a large happy family to celebrate with etc.
  • Acceptance that #4, who you are and in whatever circumstances you find yourself, you can still experience a joyful and peaceful holiday period that can look like whatever you derive joy and peace in.

Acceptance means that right here and now, these are the parameters life has handed me, and I can create my own joy within those parameters.  My favorite saying is “Dance in the puddles when it rains.”  Trying to recreate a holiday experience as it is portrayed in the movies is like trying to take a square wooden block and work it into a round hole.  You are trying to chase a goal that is unobtainable regardless of how much money you throw at it or how hard you try.  Accept that we are all different and different is beautiful and interesting.  Different does not mean worse than I or better than I, different can be just different.

Because every human is different from other humans, accepting what is and creating joy around that offers opportunities to learn from each other.  It creates exciting reasons to speak with other humans and learn from their world experiences.  It does not have to be “otherness” because the human similarity lies in the fact that all humans are different.

So let’s start off our holiday season 2022 with Thankfulness.  Thankfulness to have our lives, thankfulness for what we have, and thankfulness for the people we surround ourselves with during this time.  What would your holiday look like if you could merely focus on creating a time of pure joy?  In my sessions, we create a vision board that shows the who, what, and where your holiday would involve.  We then process and strategize ways to take that vision and implement it in that person’s life.

Bottom line, if we embrace and accept that all humans are different and we are all human, then striving desperately to recreate something that is not recreatable for us in our worlds will be a thing of the past as will the accompanying stress and anxiety that comes with trying to reach a goal that is unreachable.  This holiday season let’s be intentionally and purposefully grateful for what we have and create our joy within that reality.

On behalf of the Avance Care Behavioral Health Team, may all of you create a joyful holiday season surrounded by people who genuinely bring you happiness and, with an abundance of gratitude and thankfulness for all of the amazing opportunities you have experienced during the past year.

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