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Supporting Others During the Holidays

The holidays are not a joyful time of year for everyone. It can be a stressful, exhausting, and a time of high expectation just as much as it is a time of happiness. For individuals who experience mental illnesses, Autism spectrum disorder (ASD), neurodivergence, or any number of physical, mental or developmental conditions, this time of year can bring a unique set of challenges. From managing symptoms to navigating social expectations many people may find the holiday season to be a complex and emotionally charged period. It’s important for everyone to approach this topic with empathy, and recognize how people experience the holiday season differently. Knowing the importance of understanding and supporting these unique needs is the key to helping the season be comfortable and safe for everyone.

The Weight of Expectations

The holiday season is laden with societal expectations of joy and togetherness. These expectations can often feel overwhelming and unattainable. The pressure to participate in social gatherings, engage in festive activities, and maintain a cheerful demeanor may exacerbate existing symptoms and contribute to feelings of isolation and inadequacy.

Managing Symptoms

Increased stress, disrupted routines, and heightened emotions during this time can trigger anxiety, depression, or other mental health issues. Coping mechanisms that work well in other seasons may need to be adapted, and the need for self-care becomes even more crucial. Some people may be tempted to cancel medical, therapy, and other care management appointments at this busy time of year — but keeping routines and connections with professional support in tact are important and that consistency can be helpful. Be mindful that if someone whose condition is typically well-managed appears to struggle more than usual this time of year, the season’s activities and pressures may be why. Offer your empathy and support as much as possible to those who appear to struggling managing symptoms this time of year.

Navigating Social Interactions

The holiday season is synonymous with gatherings, parties, and family reunions. For some, these social interactions can be emotionally taxing. Feelings of isolation, stigma, or fear of judgment may intensify, making it difficult to connect with others. Friends and family members can play a crucial role in providing understanding, empathy, and support during these moments. While it’s important that everyone feel included and invited to participate, understand that not everyone has the same capacity for social activity. Avoid making people feel guilty about declining invitations or spending only a limited time at social gatherings. Try keeping an open mind about how people participate, and understand that just because someone may not engage with the season’s activities in the way others do, that doesn’t mean they don’t love and appreciate their friends and family or enjoy their company.

Coping with Loneliness

While the holiday season is often associated with companionship, individuals living with mental illnesses, ASD, and other health conditions may experience heightened feelings of loneliness. The juxtaposition of societal expectations and personal struggles can create a sense of isolation. It’s essential for both individuals and their loved ones to acknowledge and address these feelings, fostering an environment of empathy and connection. Check in with loved ones through the methods which they’re known to be comfortable – often that could be through Texting or social media platforms. Let them know you’re thinking about them and offer support or time to hang out if they’re interested. Offering to meet for an activity they are interested in may be especially helpful, rather than inviting them to engagements they’re unlikely to attend or have a history of not enjoying. Meeting people where they are is a great way to relieve loneliness without pressure to fit others’ expectations of a good time.

Balancing Self-Care and Celebration

Maintaining a balance between self-care and participating in holiday celebrations can be a delicate act. Setting realistic expectations, communicating boundaries, and prioritizing mental well-being are essential during this time. Encouraging a supportive and understanding environment can help individuals navigate the holiday season with more ease.

The holiday season can be a challenging time for some people, as they grapple with societal expectations, managing symptoms, and navigating social interactions. It’s crucial for society to foster empathy, understanding, and support for those facing these challenges. By acknowledging the unique experiences of individuals with serious mental illnesses during the holidays, we can work towards creating a more inclusive and compassionate environment for everyone.

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