By Dr. Jennifer D’Andrea, Director of Counseling and Psychological Services
The holidays can be a time of relaxation, joy, and connection with loved ones. They can also be a time of stress, sadness, and loneliness. Over the next six weeks, we won’t see as much of each other as we normally do. Many members of our community will take time away from Wesleyan to celebrate the holiday season with family and friends, while others will remain on campus to rest and catch up on individual projects. Whatever our plans may be, we may find ourselves struggling.
This time of year, most of us feel inundated with idealized images of what the holiday season “should” be. Social media presents us with endless images of happy celebrations, exciting travel, perfect gifts, and loving moments with special people. It is easy to believe everyone around us is truly experiencing the season this way. In reality, many of us are not. At this time of year more than any other, the pressure we feel to be happy and grateful may exacerbate the pain we feel over what we believe is wrong with or missing from our lives.
If you find yourself struggling this time of year, there are some things you can do to support your mental health:
Take a break from social media. Remind yourself that social media reflects how people want to appear to others—it’s not an indication of how they are actually doing! Give yourself permission to step away from your phone.
Connect to something that brings you peace. Have you missed your beloved pet? Spend some quality time on the couch together. Have you been working at your computer too much? Take a walk outside. Think about the places, people, and activities that give you a sense of connection to the world and make time for those things. Even a few minutes a day can make a real difference.
Find a way to contribute. One of the best ways we can support our own mental health is to provide help or support to another person or a cause. Do you know someone who is struggling with something right now? Is there a community initiative or volunteer opportunity you can join? When we reach out to help others in some way, we also help ourselves.
Reconnect with someone you care about. It’s hard to reach out to others when feeling lonely or sad, but it can work wonders for our state of mind. Is there someone who you trust? Or someone who can always make you laugh or distract you with a good story? Reach out to them for support or a lighthearted conversation.
Spend some time alone. If you are overwhelmed and stressed by family dynamics and holiday events, plan some quiet time. Try to find a few minutes each day to take time for yourself—read a book, watch a favorite program, listen to music, or take a walk.
Practice patience with yourself and others. You are not perfect, and neither is anyone else in your life. You may have disagreements with family members and loved ones may upset or disappoint you. We are all doing the best we can, and we all need grace—especially at this time of year. If you find yourself in a difficult interaction with someone, pause for a moment. Take a few deep breaths. Contemplate compassion for yourself and the people in your life.
It’s okay to reach out for professional support if you need it. If you are really struggling and need more support than you can readily access, reach out to people who can help. Remember—you are not alone.