By Giovanna Nicolo
As the holiday season nears, many of us are anticipating the frenetic pace that so often accompanies this time of year. And for some, the aftermath of the celebrations are quickly replaced by dread for the ensuing bleak winter months. If you have a mental illness, or perhaps you just feel vulnerable at this time of the year, many of us share the same overwhelming feelings about the holidays. Our expectations are such that we feel we must live up to the heavily marketed ideal of the perfect holiday season. I’ve interviewed Elizabeth Gluch, a Special Needs Adult Education Educator based in Montreal, asking her to impart her wisdom on how to make the best of the coming months. Hopefully her insights will illuminate and provide some practical ideas for those in need.
G: How can one deal with unrealistic and overwhelming expectations of the holiday season?
E: This is a time of year that can elicit all kinds of emotions. We may be invited to social and family gatherings that we don’t necessarily look forward to attending. We may feel that we don’t have the physical or mental stamina to deal with overwhelming responsibilities and expectations. Some ideas that came out of our focus group:
“Acting in our own best interest”: what do we look forward to during the holiday season, and what do we dread? Can we enhance the former, and decrease the latter? Can we put a limit on our social obligations, and decide ahead of time that we would really like to spend time with, and under what circumstances?
“Anticipation” is a great word. Can we foresee those situations that may be particularly demanding? How did we react in the past when “Aunt Matilda” brought up an unpleasant incident? Can we become pros at smoothly redirecting the course of a conversation? Do we have some points of interest that we can ask others about, instead of feeling like victims of unwanted scrutiny?
G: How can one deal with economic concerns over the holiday season?
E: This is a sensitive issue for many people. How about more “A” words? “Alter”: Can we change the way things are done during the holiday season? Is it possible to suggest a limited gift exchange (in terms of amount or number of individuals)? Can we avoid the classic frenzied last minute shopping, where desperation and overspending may take over? Can we focus more on the spirit of the season? Can we instead share our skills, talents, and passions as gifts?
G: What about feelings of loneliness and isolation during the holidays and ensuing winter months?
E: Being alone and feeling lonely are two separate issues. Maintaining existing support networks at this time may be crucial. Do you belong to a club, a spiritual organization, a sports team, or a support group? Can you initiate contact with friends whose company you really enjoy? If you don’t particularly feel like interacting with others, but you know that staying at home will worsen your state, can you go to a public place? Do you have a short list of destinations that will help you get out of the house, such as a museum, a library, a gym, or the park? Remember: Engaging in social situations is healthy for the mind and avoidance can actually contribute to anxiety.
Establishing a routine is helpful for most people. So is participating in some kind of meaningful activity, such as volunteering. It’s also a great way to meet new individuals and be stimulated intellectually, creatively, etc.
How about having a few phone numbers at hand for the more difficult days (i.e. Tel-Aide: 514-935-1101; Suicide Action Montreal: 1-866-277-3553). Visit our resource list HERE for organizations that can help with any number of situations or difficulties.
There are so many other issues that we haven’t even touched upon. I am particularly sentimental at this time of year! So my wish for others is that they find beauty in their environments, that they allow joy back into their lives, and that they reconnect with people and activities that provide comfort and peace.
AMI wishes all a merry winter season. Always know that despite the hardships of mental illness that does not stop one from living a life well lived.
Help from AMI-Quebec is just a phone call away at 514-486-1448 in Montreal or toll free at 1-877-303-0264 across Quebec.
About Elizabeth Gluch:
A Special Needs Adult Education Teacher of the Marymount Adult Centre, for the last 10 years she has been stationed at the Allan Memorial Institute’s Day Hospital in Montreal; She animates a variety of groups including: WRAP (wellness toolbox, daily maintenance, triggers, early warning signs, crisis planning); Healthy Lifestyle, Exercise Groups and Goal Setting. She also animates ad-hoc groups which are determined by the needs of the individuals.