Mental health is a state of well-being in which an individual realises his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a meaningful contribution to their community.
Mental health is a critical component of individual, family, community and national wellbeing and prosperity.
As the year draws to an end and we enter the December holiday season, it is important to consider the impact of the upcoming end of year holidays on our mental wellbeing.
Mental health benefits of end of year holidays
- Rest and restoration: holidays are an opportunity to rest physically and psychologically. Our work can take a toll on our bodies and minds. Holidays allow us to sleep more and rest from our usual work responsibilities. Rest restores our physical energy, prevents exhaustion and burnout. We need to learn to rest to prevent exhaustion rather than to rest because we are exhausted.
- Disconnecting from work and de-stressing: end of year holidays also allow us to change our usual routines. This can allow us to disconnect from technology and the fast pace of life and de-stress. We can take some time doing hobbies and other activities that help us to relax and relieve our stress
- Reconnecting with loved ones: As we disconnect from work and technology, this is an opportunity to spend time with family and friends and reconnect with loved ones. Family gatherings can be festive times to catch up with those who matter the most to us and to invest time with them. This strengthens our social support networks and prevents loneliness.
- Reflection and realignment: Holidays can also allow us time to reflect over the year that has passed, our achievements, our challenges, our wins and losses. In the usual ‘busy-ness’ of life we may become distracted from our goals and our vision, we may become distracted from our values and belief systems and by the end of the year we may feel as if we have lost our direction and our bearings. Holidays can give us time to realign ourselves to our values and beliefs.
- Planning and preparation: The end of year holidays give an opportunity to plan for the new year and prepare ourselves physically and mentally. Our plans may not always happen as we want but having a vision, goals and plans is mentally protective and allows us to focus our energies and our efforts in a directed way.
Why do December holidays become stressful?
- Financial pressure: end of year holidays often mean travelling to visit family, attend family gatherings or spend on year end vacations. The festive season is often also a season of giving and receiving gifts. All this can result in immense financial pressure that can result in stress and anxiety.
- Social events: end of year functions and family gatherings can be overwhelming particularly if one is struggling with anxiety or depression. Introverts particularly may find the multiple gatherings to be emotionally draining.
- Loneliness and isolation: While many spend holiday time reconnecting with family and friends, for some who have few family ties or are disconnected from family, the holidays may actually mean spending much of that time alone. This can increase the risk of depression, anxiety and maladaptive coping skills such as drinking alcohol excessively, using substances or over eating.
- Grief: For those who have recently lost close family members, the first holiday season without them can be overwhelming. The emotions of grief may seem heightened over the holidays and may dampen the festive mood
How can I maintain my mental wellbeing during the holidays?
- Remain emotionally aware: it is important to be aware of our emotional state and emotional triggers as we enter the holiday season, during family and other social gatherings. This will help us manage our emotions better and avoid or manage situations that can trigger us.
- Dedicate time to rest and reflect: make time to rest adequately, to reflect, realign yourself to your values and beliefs, plan and prepare for the new year. Don’t become so busy that you need a holiday after the holiday due to exhaustion from holiday activities
- Disconnect from technology: take a digital holiday with minimal technology to allow mental rest and restoration. We have all become quite addicted to our phones and devices and some time away from these gadgets can help restore our balance
- Manage expectations and financial pressure: remember what is truly important in this season is reconnecting with loved ones and showing appreciation, this doesn’t have to be in costly ways. Plan your holiday spending and safeguard against the pressure to spend more than you intend.
If you think that you or someone that you know may be struggling with a mental health challenge, please contact your nearest health care provider and get help.
*Dr Chido Rwafa-Madzvamutse is a consultant psychiatrist. Feedback: WhatsApp: +263714987729
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