Lessons in self-care for healthy holiday season
Editor’s note: This is one in a series of columns written in observance of National Mental Illness Awareness Week, submitted by the local chapter of NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
NAMI of Rowan
Everyone experiences symptoms of depression or anxiety at some point. Whether it be the holidays, job or family stress, loss, or a huge life change, most of us have struggled at one time or another.
For the mentally ill, struggling can be a fact of life. Finding the right balance of medication and treatment can be a daunting task, and more may be required than meds and therapy. Learning self-care can ease these symptoms and prevent unpleasant episodes from happening.
Taking time and doing things to manage your mental health is not selfish. It can be one of the most important things you do for yourself. Here are some ideas to help keep you mentally healthy or help you manage your or a loved one’s mental illness during the holidays:
1. Taking medications: Whether they are for high blood pressure or bipolar disorder, taking your medications at the same time every day is important. Build medications into your daily schedule so you are less likely to forget.
2. Healthy diet: Eating too much or not enough can contribute to not feeling well and can even affect your mood. Always eat three meals a day. Eat even when your schedule is busy. Your body needs protein to heal itself and depriving it can have adverse effects. Research the right diet for your diagnosis.
3. Limit stimulants: Caffeine can amplify negative symptoms and make you feel worse than you really do. This makes it difficult to judge how well you’re really doing.
4. Self-awareness: Know when you are upset, stressed, ill, resentful, etc. Be in touch with your own emotions and know what to do about how you feel.
5. Know your triggers: Be aware of things that trigger symptoms. Do what is necessary to avoid them or be prepared to deal with symptoms if you can’t avoid them. Be aware of what soothes you and what doesn’t.
6. Journaling: Keeping a journal can help keep you aware of how you feel and can help release pent-up emotions. It can also help track symptoms and their severity. This can give you a place to look back and see how you felt before significant events.
7. Keep appointments with your doctor: Keeping appointments keeps your wellness on your mind. It can also help detect when you are headed in a negative direction. Be honest about any symptoms you are experiencing.
8. Information, information: Educate yourself about your diagnosis. The more you know, the better you will be able to take care of yourself and ward off setbacks.
9. Sleep: The right amount of sleep can go a long way toward wellness. Too little or too much sleep can worsen symptoms and contribute to depression. Adjust your sleep schedule to whatever makes you feel your best.
10. Privacy: Everyone has a need for privacy. When you need time alone, ask that others respect that and don’t allow others to intrude on it. (This is different from avoiding people; know the difference, whether you need privacy or are hiding and avoiding something.) Your mental health is important; don’t allow others to intrude on it.
11. Be honest with yourself: Don’t allow yourself to slip back into denial. Don’t fall into “just this once” scenarios. If you know something isn’t good for you, don’t do it.
12. Place your own needs first when necessary: It is not selfish. Your needs are just as important as anyone else’s.
13. Say no when necessary: Piling too many things on your schedule can stress you out and can lead to setbacks. Understand your recovery/wellness is very important. Sometimes taking care of yourself means disappointing others. It’s OK to say no. It doesn’t mean you’re being selfish. It just means you need to do something else right now. Your wellness is more important than pleasing everyone else.
14. Healthy self-esteem: Self-esteem means loving yourself unconditionally. Remember you are worthy of love just because you’re breathing. Having a mental illness or struggling does not make you unlovable. Love yourself no matter what.
15. Learn how to self-soothe: Create activities that help make you feel better when you are upset. Don’t always depend on others to calm you down. Talk when necessary, but have other ways to calm yourself that you can do by yourself.
16. Ask for help when you need it: You don’t have to carry every burden alone. Ask for help instead of doing everything yourself. Don’t settle for no as an answer. Keep looking until you find the help you need.
17. Know your limits: Recognize when you’re pushing yourself too hard. If something starts to stress you out or begins to trigger you, stop or walk away if you can. Book “me time” into your schedule.
18. De-brief: Talk to someone about a particularly stressful event or how your day went. Get in touch with how it made you feel. Journal about it.
19. Avoid harsh language with yourself: Listen to the messages you send yourself. Don’t call yourself names or be demeaning with yourself. Everything doesn’t have to be perfect. Stop yourself in the middle of a negative message and reframe the way you say it in a positive manner.
20. Change your surroundings: Surround yourself with things that calm you. Have a space that is just for you. It can be an entire room or a favorite chair.
21. Pace yourself: Realize that recovery is a slow process. It takes a whole lot of knowledge to get where you need to be. It takes time to learn all that you/your loved one will need to know. Don’t rush it. There will be setbacks. Don’t punish yourself for them. Pushing too hard can cause stress and trigger setbacks.
22. Surround yourself with positivity: Get rid of negative relationships. Surround yourself with people who “get” and encourage you.
23. Think outside the box: Don’t try to fit yourself or your loved one into the way things “should be” or “used to be.” Doing so will keep you grieving for something you cannot have. Accept that you, your loved one or the circumstances are different and learn to work within them.
24. Organize: Plan ahead. Lay out your clothes the night before. Finish tasks completely. Don’t surround yourself with unfinished tasks. Doing so will affect your state of mind.
25. De-clutter your surroundings: Sleeping in a messy room can affect your sleep as well as give you a messy place for private time. Small things can affect wellness the same as large ones.
26. Pick your battles: Ask yourself “Is this really important?” If it isn’t then let it go.
27. De-stress: Find activities that demand all your attention. Break your “tunnel-vision” about an issue.
28. Mindfulness: Concentrate on a particular item to clear your mind of troubling thoughts. Become aware of only that item. What does it look like? What kind of texture does it have? Are there any imperfections? How does it feel? Become aware of your impressions of the item.
29. Play: Add an activity that is fun for you, even child-like. Watch cartoons, color in a coloring book, work a puzzle, dance, sing, play a video game, tell yourself a funny story, play with a stuffed animal. Legos work well. It’s hard not to have a smile on your face when you’re building a Lego house.
For more information on mental illness and wellness go to www.nami.org.