In my role as a social worker with Eastern Health’s Mental Health and Addictions Program, I often see clients who struggle during the Holiday season.
It’s a time of year that embodies an often unrealistic picture-perfect version of the world. This can cause some of us to more keenly feel our imperfections and shortcomings. There are many things that can contribute to these feelings of stress or inadequacy, especially when some individuals already struggle with pre-existing issues such as mood swings, problematic substance use or even depression.
Lately, I have been reflecting on how the story, “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens, applies to everyday life – how we can use its final lesson of living in the moment, to not only help manage our emotions, but to help us to relax and even enjoy the Holiday season.
As many of us know, “A Christmas Carol” tells the story of a cold-hearted, money grubbing man, Ebenezer Scrooge, who is offered the opportunity to change his ways when three ghosts come to visit. One is the Ghost of Christmas Past, one is the Ghost of Christmas Present, and the last is the Ghost of Christmas Yet-to-Come.
There is something about this story that strikes a chord in the hearts of people – it holds out the possibility that personal transformation is possible.
But how do we apply the lesson that Scrooge learned to real life situations?
Letting the past go
For Scrooge, the Ghost of Christmas Past brought regret, guilt and sorrow for all the things that he believed time had stolen. Sometimes it can seem as though time ultimately takes everything away, but when we hold onto the past, it can block present happiness and peace of mind.
The future will take care of itself
The Ghost of Christmas Yet-To-Come brought Scrooge fear and anxiety of the unknown. However, in reality everything is unknown. The only real control we have is to choose to live in the here and now.
The present is truly a gift
That is the power of the Ghost of Christmas Present. Scrooge re-discovers the joy of living in the moment, not thinking of the past – which is over, or the future – which has yet to happen. But living – for the now.
I often consider The Ghost of Christmas Present as one of my colleagues. He sits by my side as I teach the people we serve how to live in the present. We call it mindfulness training. In some ways, it is a clumsy term. It does not capture the magic, the beauty and the joy of living in the here and now.
In the end, letting go of regret, guilt, sorrow, fear and anxiety freed Scrooge. His story is our story. We are all in life together, as one, and that in loving others, we love ourselves.
If you experience a mental health crisis over the Holiday season, or at any time, please contact the 24-hour Mental Health Crisis Line and Mobile Crisis Response Team at 709-737-4668 or 1-888-737-4668.
For non-urgent mental health support, visit the Channel website at www.channal.ca or call their Warm Line at 709-753-2560 or 1-855-753-2560 (11 a.m. to 11 p.m., 7 days per week). ■
This story was written by Paul March, a social worker with Eastern Health’s Mental Health and Addictions Program
Tips for Dealing with Holiday Stress
Determine your priorities, your values and the definition of what this time of year means to you. Reflect on what is meaningful to you and create your own traditions and rituals. Then make your plans around that.
Eating and Sleeping
- Eat nutritious food in balanced proportions. Remember that too much sugar and fat can make you sluggish.
- As much as possible, stick to a routine of sleep and exercise.
Drinking may help you feel better for the moment, but too much alcohol can disrupt normal sleep, lead to dehydration and uncomfortable hangovers.
- You may not get everything done.
- Do not expect perfection from yourself. When you know that not everything is going to be perfect – because life is not like that – adverse outcomes are less likely to overwhelm you.
- Set time limits for tasks that you don’t enjoy much.
Research shows that people work more efficiently when breaks are built in to their schedule. When you take periodic rests, you have more energy and get more done, despite the fact that the actual work time is slightly less.
Do not isolate yourself – accept invitations, but keep the visits to an hour or less. Make an effort to talk to someone, at least on the phone, every day.
If you’re far away from loved ones, or if acquaintances seem to have plans that do not include you, make plans of your own to help others. Volunteer at a homeless shelter or hospital. Be the gift that others need. You’ll have a sense of purpose, and your help will be appreciated.
Watch what you Watch
If Holiday movies, Holiday stories and Holiday commercials make you feel worse, watch and listen to something else. There are many media choices with content unrelated to the Holidays.
Have a sense of humour and don’t take yourself too seriously. Allow yourself latitude for mistakes, imperfections and memory lapses. Be as tolerant of yourself as you are with others.
- Keep it real.
- Don’t try to pretend that everything is fine.
- Don’t try to make the Holidays perfect whatever “perfect” may be.
- Acknowledge to yourself how you feel.
Know About Triggers
We may feel we can’t share sadness at this time of year, but the Holidays often brings back strong memories. Work out your emotional boundaries in advance. Have a backup plan with trusted people.
- Move from the past to the present moment.
- Move away from thinking about life to experiencing life. Then you’ll notice small beauties and pleasures in the world instead of living in your head.
- View thoughts and feelings as something that will pass. In this way you learn there’s no need to avoid or escape thoughts and feelings.
- Be kind to yourself instead of wishing things were different.
- Stop driving yourself to meet impossible goals.
- Find ways to make peace with yourself. That means not being hard on yourself!
Mindfulness helps you focus on what works, do what needs to be done and helps you meet the needs of the situation rather than paying attention to some past or future situation.