Advice: Mental illness does not take a holidays

While this is the most wonderful time of year for some, it’s also the most stressful time of year for many

Rakhi Beekrum

Published Dec 22, 2023

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While this is the most wonderful time of year for some, it’s also the most stressful time of year for many.

The reality is that mental illness does not take a break during the holidays. In fact, some aspects of the festive season can exacerbate mental health struggles.

For those who struggle with depression, for example, seeing others in a festive mood and picture-perfect social media posts can leave them feeling even worse about their own lives. Those who are grieving may find it difficult to see others enjoy time with loved ones. Those who are in conflictual relationships or are undergoing a break-up or divorce can find it difficult seeing other couples happy together.

Those with family conflict may find it difficult to spend more time with family, meet family obligations or uphold traditions that no longer feel good for them. This does not mean that one is unhappy for others, but it can be triggering to be reminded about what one hoped to have for oneself.

Students awaiting results (and their parents) may also feel anxious in anticipation of results and options for the year ahead. This anxiety is completely rational, but should not rob us of the present moment. It’s important to focus on what we can control.

Financial stress has been a huge factor for many this year with the cost of living crisis. The pressure to spend can add to this already stressful situation, especially if surrounded by those who are not considerate or empathic. Each of us need to be mindful of our individual situations and commitments, and shouldn’t overcommit ourselves.

Many feel lonely during this time of year. While some feel lonely due to distance from loved ones, grief or unresolved family/relationship issues, others may feel lonely even in the midst of company, because they have disconnected from themselves (in order to maintain relationships).

While many strive for a ‘merry’ Christmas, I also encourage striving for a ‘mindful’ Christmas. What this means is to live in the present – even if the present is not the most pleasant. It means to accept and validate your feelings (feelings are not the same as thoughts – thoughts are not always facts).

Give yourself compassion for how you are feeling. Be patient with yourself and introspect on what you most need in order to find peace in the moment. Be mindful of little things that bring you joy. Be mindful of your priorities, and align your actions with those priorities. Take time for yourself in the midst of your busyness. Be kind to your body – remember to balance physical activity with rest and indulgence with food that makes you feel good. Connect with those who make you feel good and with whom you can be yourself.

Know who you can turn to when you feel lonely or depressed. While it’s hard for someone who is depressed to reach out and admit they’re struggling, it may be easier to call to check up on a loved one, ask if they’re free for coffee or to join you for a walk, volunteer to do something that will bring joy to others or find an activity where you can connect with others based on a shared interest. It is okay to spend time alone if that is helpful. But social isolation can worsen symptoms of depression.

Go back to basics – create a holiday routine, get enough sleep, spend time in nature, ensure that you eat, get sunlight, do some physical activity, rest, meditate, pray. Sometimes simple things help us feel better. The festive season is a busy time, so plan ahead, be reasonable about what you commit to and give yourself extra time to get things done.

Be honest with yourself if you need professional help. If it feels too big of a step, start out by calling a helpline to just chatting to your GP to point you in the right direction.

Your peace should be your most important priority.

Rakhi Beekrum is a counselling psychologist in Durban North with more than 14 years’ experience in individual and couples therapy. Her expert advice has been featured in print and digital media, on radio and television. She uses her social media platforms to spread mental health awareness and to reduce the stigma.

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Mental Health