All is calm, all is bright: Managing your mental health at Christmastime
By Jessica Smith, LMFT, BC-TMH
Christmas lights are shining in the streets, holiday music is on the radio, and there are joyous celebration ads on television. It appears that everyone is happy this time of the year.
Perhaps you are feeling happiness and hope; maybe you are feeling sadness and disappointment. Perhaps you are feeling both. It is critical to take time to slow down, pause, and identify and acknowledge whatever you are feeling without pressuring yourself or feeling guilty if you are not feeling a certain way. Every feeling, whether pleasant or not, has a cause and purpose. Suppressing or ignoring them does not allow them to guide your behavior or influence your decisions.
Take time to listen to your feelings
It is critical to take a small amount of time out of your day, even just 5-10 minutes, to sit, be still and notice your thoughts, feelings, and bodily sensations. You can even do this while driving to work, folding laundry, cleaning the dishes. As you spend more time thinking about your mental attitude, identifying your emotions, and noticing how your body feels, you make a strong impact on your own personal relationship with yourself. At first, it may feel foreign and perhaps overwhelming; but just like making a new friend, spending time and showing care serves to strengthen the relationship. Self-compassion can be giving yourself permission to take a break, telling yourself that it is okay to have a certain thought or feeling, or creating a boundary with a person/people that are not healthy for you. This practice of showing compassion to yourself cultivates feelings of inner peace.
Recognize how you cope with feelings
As self-awareness increases, you can understand how you have been coping with feelings and become intentional of how you cope with them. You may find that your primary methods have been effective in the short term, but are causing more harm down the road. Examples of unhealthy coping skills include suppressing emotions, telling yourself that you should not feel that way, beginning alcohol or drug use, or abusing alcohol or drugs. Some signs that you are not effectively coping with feelings include having a sense of numbness, becoming easily irritated, increased anger, and decreased stress tolerance. If you begin to notice these signs, give yourself credit for being able and willing to gain perspective by being honest with yourself.
Manage healthy coping skills
The next step is to resume healthy coping skills or learn some new ones. It is critical that you are able to express what you are experiencing. This can occur through praying, writing, talking to loved ones, or meeting with a therapist. As you are able to express your feelings, it helps your brain physically process them and decreases the emotional intensity. It is also helpful to find “restful” moments throughout the day, even as little as five minutes, to just be still and free of daily distractions from others and technology. Physical activity helps to decrease stress and increase healthy “feel good” neurotransmitters in our brain.
This year has provided some unexpected opportunities for growth. Especially at Christmas and at the New Year, it is understandable for you to have many, and often mixed, feelings. As you increase awareness of how and what you are feeling and tend to these feelings in a compassionate, healthy manner, you can achieve inner calm and peace. Give yourself that gift this Christmas.
Christian Family Solutions offers a wide range of helpful resources from our team of professional counselors. You can trust Christian Family Solutions for effective counseling, coping skills, and mental health treatment. For those who so choose, we have the unique ability to blend these evidence-based therapy methods with Christian faith principles for increased spiritual strength and impact. You’ll find more information here on our website.
Jessica Smith, LMFT, BC-TMH serves as a licensed marriage/family therapist and dual diagnosis treatment director for Christian Family Solutions in Mankato, MN. For more information on our Mankato clinic, and dual diagnosis program, visit https://christianfamilysolutions.org/locations/mankato/