The Gift of Sanity – 5 Ways to Take Care of Yourself During the Holidays
By Kayla Tricaso
Administrative & Intake Coordinator
Triune Therapy Group
“You chose your family over me. Don’t be surprised if you come back to LA and I’ve killed myself.”The text from my boyfriend was the first notification I received when I turned my phone off airplane mode upon landing in my hometown of Ann Arbor, Michigan. Coming home for Christmas never felt as joyous as it should have been. Everything around me-people clad in red and green Christmas gear, decorated Christmas trees in every visible direction, and the nonstop loop of classic cheery Christmas songs-indicated that this time of year is a celebration. I want to feel that innate happiness, but in my reality, Christmas feels like a party I wasn’t invited to but somehow ended up at anyway. As much as I’d love to feel normal and revel in the festivities, all I really want to do is retreat to my bed and hibernate until said party is over. I know the holidays aren’t supposed to feel like this, but in my current predicament and for the last several years, it’s all I’ve known.
My boyfriend’s threats of suicide never become less terrifying as they happen and they’ve been happening for 5 years now. The threats are always empty, but the fear that he could follow through the one time I don’t take it sent me into a full blown panic attack in the middle of terminal 2. I sat down at a random gate, headed to Albuquerque in 2 hours, and thought about hopping the flight. Instead, I attempted to call my boyfriend to make sure he’s okay. My trembling hands and sudden lack of focus made it difficult to tap his number on my phone’s contact list. I pressed the phone to my ear and felt my chest tighten with every deafening ring that goes unanswered. I call again. I called six more times, praying to no one in particular that I’d hear his voice on the other end of the phone. I contemplated calling the cops to our apartment, when a text with his name appears on my phone’s screen. I pressed the notification so quick it nearly pushed the phone out of my own hand. “Stop calling me, you psychopath. You’re acting crazy. Leave me alone and have a good holiday with your family. I’ll be here where you left me. Alone.” The relief of knowing he was alive overpowered his insults. Another text illuminated my phone, but this time it was my mom, letting me know she had arrived at the airport and would meet me at baggage claim. I needed to pull myself together before I saw her. I b-lined towards the nearest restroom to assess the damage the panic attack had on my appearance. When I looked in the mirror, the woman looking back at me looked like a complete mess. Bloodshot eyes that refused to subside in their aggressive color no matter how much concealer is applied, deep black bags underneath the bloodshot eyes from weeks of sleep deprivation, and pimples inhabiting the exact parts of the face that serve as the frequented territory for stress breakouts. Hopefully I can convince my mom that I’m just exhausted form work. As I headed towards baggage claim I practiced my excuses, weighing each one’s believability. I mean, it’s not like I can tell her the truth. It’s not like I can tell her I look like this because my boyfriend and I are in the middle of a two-week long fight because my family hates him and won’t let me bring him home for Christmas. Even if I told her about the enormous amount of guilt I feel because he has no family and will spend Christmas by himself in the confines of our tiny one bedroom apartment, nothing would change. At the time, I thought my mom was excessively picky about who she wanted her daughter to date, but I should have known she was smart enough to know that this wasn’t a healthy relationship. She knew about his problems with drugs, the ways he’d use and manipulate me, the cheating, and his overall toxic influence on my life. I don’t blame her for not wanting to be around someone like him, but it certainly made everything a lot more difficult for me. There was no way to juggle all the expectations and needs they both required; no matter how hard I tried to balance the two separate lives I was living; I was always dropping the ball.
As predicted, the first thing my mom says to me is that I look like I haven’t slept in months. She follows up her blunt observation with more questions about how much I’ve been eating, noting that I’m starting to look too skinny. She wants to know how work is going and when I can expect a promotion because according to her, there’s no way I’ll ever thrive in a big city with my salary. She wants to know if I’ve made friends yet and tells me I should be getting involved in activities because otherwise I’ll reside in my introverted ways and she worries about how much time I spend alone. She goes on and on with a plethora of more questions examinations, all to which I nod and tell her whatever it is that I think she wants to hear. It’s easier this way. Of all the questions my mom bombards me with, the one component of my life she leaves off the table is my relationship with my boyfriend. That’s how my family operates-perpetually ignoring the colossal elephant in the room. The topic will eventually come up after a glass or five of wine, but for now, I’m content with half-listening to my mom talk about my brother’s athletic accolades and the current drama on her favorite soap opera. We drive home to my childhood home as I close my eyes and attempt to mentally prepare for the stressful festivities that will take place over the next few days, imagining the vacation I would like to take after my so-called holiday vacation.
5 Ways To Stay Sane During The Holidays
The holiday season can be a challenging time of the year. The holidays can be especially hard on those who struggle with mental illness, have challenging families, or if the holiday expectations simply just feel to be too much. The important thing to remember is that you’re not alone and there are exercises and tactics you can utilize to help keep calm when you feel overwhelmed.
- Don’t overcommit – It’s likely that during the holidays you can feel like you’re being pulled in many different directions. When your to-do list consists of attending holiday parties, spending time with family, making sure you’ve gotten gifts for friends and family, and more time consuming tasks specific to the season, it can feel overwhelming. Prioritize your commitments and allow yourself the autonomy to skip your co-worker’s ugly Christmas sweater party if you’re feeling spread too thin.
- Take breaks & breathe – The holidays tend to get so hectic that you may feel overwhelmed and anxious. Taking a moment to breathe, participating in a quick five-minute meditation, or doing an at-home yoga session can be beneficial ways to ground yourself and destress.
- Get an ample amount of sleep – Getting a good night of sleep can do wonders for your mental and emotional health. Try setting a bedtime and putting all technology away so as not to be tempted by any distractions. If you find yourself struggling to fall asleep and/or stay asleep, try breathing exercises or a sleep-specific meditation practice to calm your active mind.
- Practice gratitude – Gratitude can have the ability to change your whole perception when you’re feeling down. If you find yourself having negative thoughts, feeling depressed or anxious, or feeling stressed, take a moment to acknowledge the positive aspects of your life.
- Remember to treat yourself – So much of the holidays revolve around giving to others, but treating yourself can be just as fulfilling. See a movie, get a massage, take a relaxing bath, buy yourself a Christmas gift, give yourself permission to say “no” – anything you can do solely for yourself can be a much deserved boost to keep you going through the holidays.
- Lipman, F. (2014, December 07). 15 Ways to Stay Sane for the Holiday Season. Retrieved December 11, 2017, from https://www.bewell.com/blog/15-ways-to-stay-sane-for-the-holiday-season/