Thanksgiving and the rest of the holiday season is traditionally a time to share food and time with our friends and family. For most of us, this is unlikely to be the case this year. With travel restrictions and Public Health Orders in place, we will need to adjust, but this could have a major impact on our mental health.

The holidays are traditionally when everyone can take time off from work and connect with people they care about, break their routine and travel. With COVID-19 surging across much of the country, these activities aren’t safe at this time. Looking after our mental health in a proactive way is more important than ever as we enter the holiday season.

This year, we need to find small, creative ways to feel joy and comfort and when you need it, don’t be afraid to ask for help. For the holidays to maintain that vital human connection, that might mean having a video chat with a loved one in a nursing home, committing to calling someone you love every day or setting up a computer in the dining room so family and friends from afar can virtually join in the holiday meal.

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According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), 64 percent of people with mental illness report holidays make their conditions worse. In addition, many holiday events include and even focus on alcohol consumption, which can be a particularly challenging time for sobriety for people in recovery.

In Sacramento County alone, it is estimated that nearly 300,000 residents are living with a mental illness, which means we all need to bring understanding and kindness to each other and ourselves as we greet this holiday season.

Mental Health Tips during the Holidays:

  1. Keep Active. Physical activity can boost your mood both in the short and long term. Go for a 10-15 minute walk or dance around in your kitchen to increase your mood and calmness. 
  2. Address Loneliness. Many people have been isolated in 2020, to combat this, make an effort to call or video chat someone who is important to you. Remember to check in with others through email, text and social media. Staying occupied is also helpful, find a new podcast, listen to music, start drawing, an occupied and engaged mind is less likely to dwell on loneliness. 
  3. Eat and Drink Well. What we eat impacts our mood – with this in mind, make sure to eat well leading up and following Thanksgiving to keep a steady mind. Also remember, that while alcohol might lift your mood and reduce anxiety at the time, in the long term alcohol increases the risk of developing mental health issues such as depression and anxiety. 
  4. Keep your expectations realistic. Not everyone is on the same page when it comes to COVID-19, some might want to have a Zoom-based meal while others want to have a small in-person meal. These differences have the potential to causes disappointment and additional stress. Have a clear and frank discussion with family on what to expect this year. The best option is to celebrate virtually this year.
  5. Get enough sleep. It might be a small thing, but getting the sleep you need every night can keep you a little healthier and happier. Sleep deprivation can heighten emotions and cause unnecessary, added stress. 

 It’s also important to remember that for people in recovery, the holidays can be a particularly challenging time for their sobriety. You can help those in recovery during the holiday season by demonstrating understanding and support.

For those in recovery, below are important strategies for sobriety and enjoy holidays:

  • Before heading to holiday festivities virtually or in person, have a plan to stay sober 
  • Choose activities and your company to reduce triggers
  • Spend time with those who are supportive and keep away from drama
  • Have a response ready for those repeatedly offering alcohol (I’m driving; I’m the designate driver​; or I don’t drink alcohol) 
  • Bring your own non-alcoholic beverages and fun mock-tails to parties 
  • Start your own traditions to celebrate in a way that works for you
  • Avoid putting too much pressure on yourself – it’s okay to say no to invitations, and know you are entitled to walk away from uncomfortable situations
  • Volunteer with a local charity
  • Plan your own virtual sober holiday event for your friends and family and celebrate your sobriety
  • Ask for help. When faced with cravings reach out and talk about your cravings and remember your motivations to stay clean and sober​ 

Remember to take care of yourself, and keep in mind that the holidays may be a stressful time for many of your family members and friends too. Reach out to loved ones who might be struggling with the pressure of the holidays, take the time you need for yourself and enjoy this holiday season!  

If you want to learn more about the resources available for those living with mental illness in Sacramento County, visit the Stop Stigma Sacramento website or visit the Sacramento County Behavioral Health Services for alcohol and drug prevention and treatment services

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