Heelllooo Boils and Ghouls,
I had other plans for this weeks blog, but after scrolling through my multiple Facebook Group feeds, IG stories, and even just talking to a few of those close to me I realized that this topic was much more important. I have placed the other on the back burner for a later time.
Christmas or Holiday Season can be one of the most stressful, anxious, and lonely times of the year for many. There are or could be many reasons for this: maybe it’s the pressure of gift buying, many family visits, large groups, making elaborate meals, and let’s not even get into crowded malls or lost online orders, am I right? I can’t “stress” enough that I completely understand and I’m no stranger to the pressures of this season and their effects.
For many one of the major causes of loneliness or upset is because of the loss of a loved one around this time. It may have been a recent loss or one from years ago but either way the loneliness has the ability to creep up around now. It could be because that you were close with them, this might have been their favourite holiday/season so now it feels more empty without their added cheer, or simply just because you feel alone. These are completely normal feelings and I can promise you that you’re not alone. All of these feelings can become extremely overwhelming which can linger if you’re having a hard time coping in general or with the season itself.
Another reason for these feelings could be based on the pressure to get everyone the perfect gift, or maybe outside circumstances have left you not as close to your family as you would have liked or hoped. It happens, even to the best of us. Maybe you have social anxiety, depression, seasonal affective disorder, bipolar, or any number of other mental illnesses that cause crowds, large gatherings, or anything else to do with leaving the house this time of year to be difficult. It could be a physical illness that makes it complicated for you to get around in the cold weather or crowded malls. Either way, these are all very valid and understandable reasons for added stress during this time.
Here are some tips that I’ve collected over the years to help me get through this season. (Just a quick note; not every idea or suggestion will work for everyone and therefore I compiled quite a few to cater to as many possible. So, take what you think will work for you and feel free to ignore the rest. If none of them are to your liking, that’s cool too, I will leave a hotline number and website link at the end. They will be able to direct you further.)
Suggestions for Anxiety or Just Added Stressful Moments:
- Learn some breathing exercises. It might seem kind of lame and basic but when done right has actually prevented me from having full-blown panic attacks. (Fun fact- I myself have Severe Generalized Anxiety Disorder.) My go to exercise is as follows:
- Inhale for 4 seconds.
- Hold for 7 seconds.
- Exhale for 8 seconds.
I do this a few or even several rounds in a row if need be. If this doesn’t work I have one more breathing exercise that I like:
- Sit straight up on the floor (cross-legged if possible).
- Place one hand on your chest.
- Place your other hand on your stomach.
- Inhale deeply through your nose.
- Hold for 2-3 seconds.
- Exhale all the way through your mouth.
2. If breathing doesn’t work for you then my next suggestion is mindfulness.
The best one I use is this:
- Say 5 things you can see.
- Say or touch 4 things you can touch. Please not strangers.
- Say 3 things you can hear.
- Say 2 things you can smell.
- Say 1 thing you can taste.
If none of the above work my next suggestion is to call or text someone you are close to (who doesn’t trigger you) and that you know will pick up or text back immediately. The distraction can be out of this world helpful.
Let’s touch on depression or mental illness of any kind and how I personally keep those dark or chaotic thoughts at bay, or sometimes just a good distraction can help quite a bit.
- Keep a journal- you’d be surprised how much this can help you sort out your thoughts. All year in fact.
- Try to identify your triggers and do your best to avoid them or use breathing/mindfulness exercises to keep calm while facing them.
- Take a 10 minute break and have a warm beverage. Just the act of taking a purposeful break can help to lift your mood and the warm beverage will definitely help calm your system.
- Read your favourite book for a bit- depending on where you are of course. I find losing myself in some of my favourite “fictional best friends” can help distract and make me feel a million times better. If possible do this in a warm bath or curled up under your snuggly blanket for added comfort.
- If all else fails don’t ever hesitate to reach out; either to someone you know and love that will understand, or you can always reach out to a hotline in your area that has trained volunteers/professionals. They are there to take calls of this specific manner. ASKING FOR HELP IS NOT A SIGN OF WEAKNESS, it means you see or feel that there is something wrong and dealing with it on your own has become too difficult. There is NEVER any shame in asking for help sorting out your current situation or thoughts.
- Schedule time for just yourself. This might seem difficult or even impossible when reading it and trust me, I thought so too. However, try to make sure to take at least 10 minutes a day (try to make it longer when you can) that are just for you to shut everything off, including your brain. When I do this I make sure I’m by myself, in a quite place, and just drift away to nowhere. * If you have trouble drifting thoughtlessly my best suggestion for you is to try a quick guided mediation. It can be with a specific app or just a random one you found on youtube that you think might help. This has helped me get over and deal with so many situations over the last year. When I can, I take a full hour in one day once or twice a week to just be and breathe. It helps me deal with all sorts of everyday and holiday types of stress. Once you get into the habit of it you’ll wonder how you ever lived without doing this. I promise.*
Now, onto the hardest topic, the loss of a loved one in or around the season. Current or past. This could also mean divorce, I’m not just talking about the death of a person. The death of a relationship this time of year can be extremely devastating as well.
- If it was this year my biggest suggestion would be to lean on your family and if you can’t do so take the year off from celebrating if you truly need to. There is no shame or harm in taking a break and realizing you just can’t do it this year. Grieve- it is necessary.
- When you can, lean on close friends. Most will be more than understanding and you will be no burden to them. I’ve done this myself in previous years. Some may even invite you to be a part of their celebrations which could be just what you need to get through this tough year. A night or two of fun filled activities with loved ones of any kind are wonderful for your mental health, even during non-holiday times.
- Deaths which occurred in the last few years can still make this time of year hard and lonely. It’s still completely understandable and I have a few suggestions for this specifically:
- Do something in honour of the person that is no longer here.
- Do something that you would have done with them, with another family member or close friend.
- I personally light a candle and say a bit or “talk to them” as a means of connecting with that person and to honour them at the same time. It helps me feel as though they are there and I can talk with them again. Even just for a brief moment.
- Make their favourite meal or their favourite part of the holiday meal. It can add an extra bit of comfort.
- Visit their grave or wherever they were laid to rest/ashes were spread if you think it will help you connect with them better. Light a tea light candle at their grave if it is safe to do so. Or leave them a small gift. It has always helped me just be where they are so to speak. Others prefer to stay away and that is how they deal with it. It is all very personal.
- Death is EXTREMELY difficult so go easy on yourself. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself to not feel sad all season long. I actually schedule grieving time for those no longer with me that were important to me so I can take that time to feel sad and not have it loom over the whole month. If it is a new death GRIEVE. That is very important and grieving looks different to everyone. Do what works best for you.
Otherwise I have a few extra tips for those who are under “regular” holiday stress/pressure:
- Do your best to plan ahead. Plan your gift list and where you have to go so it can be done as quickly and orderly as possible. That way you won’t feel like you’re bouncing all over the place.
- SET A BUDGET AND STICK TO IT!! Whether it be per gift or for the season in total. It’s important not to max yourself out financially because that can cause more stress later on.
- SET BOUNDARIES- tell people what is too much. If that means only one family/friend visit per day than do it and stick to it. I know I do. If that to you means asking others to bring food to dinner-DO IT!!
- Make gifts. If you can’t afford gifts, make them when possible. It’s not about the money, it’s about the thought. The heart of it. Spend time instead. That’s what my family is doing this year. We’re all in a bit of a tight place.
- Spread out visits. Mentally or physically draining yourself definitely won’t help later either. I’ve been there and done that. Friends and family will understand if you have to do so.
- GO EASY ON YOURSELF!! Beating yourself up won’t reduce your stress-load. Trust me. This is one that I’m still working on. It takes time. Be kind to yourself.
- Find 1 thing each day to be thankful or happy about. Even if it is just something small. It is still something.
Always remember, you’re by no means alone and there are services out there to help you. People love you and care about you and your well-being. Reach out if you need to do so. Please, reach out.
One of Ottawa’s greatest services is the Distress Centre of Ottawa & Region. Below is all of their contact information. Call, message, or otherwise. They are there to help. ALWAYS!
- Emotional support and encouragement
- Crisis management and intervention
- Suicide risk assessment and prevention
- Community resource / referral information
Crisis: 613-722-6914 or 1-866-996-0991
- situational crisis
- psychosis or suicidal behaviour
- severe depression or anxiety or suicidal behaviour
Distress Centre of Ottawa & Region
P.O.Box 3457 Station C