"There are so few times that I have everybody I love in one room. My college kids come home, my high school-aged kids are not asking to go anywhere, and my parents take the drive down. It makes all the stress worth it and it allows me to see how all of my people are doing," says one Pennsylvania mother. That "stress" she is talking about is preparing for Thanksgiving and the Holiday Season in general. The "happiest time of the year" can be riddled with family and financial stress that revolve around making sure your children get the present they asked for, and the turkey comes out in time before your sister and mom go at it again. We at PA Parent and Family Alliance wanted to remind you to take a second for yourself during this overwhelming time, make an emphasis for you and your loved ones to focus on what you are grateful for, and to use it as a time to "check-in" on all of the people you love and make sure they are doing okay.
Check-in with yourself
If you are on your third cup of coffee and have been to the grocery store more times than you can remember, take a moment for yourself. It is not just a cheerful time for everybody in your life but also for you. When you are feeling overwhelmed take a minute for yourself just to breathe. It has always and will always work out. As a parent, you may feel like it is your duty to make this holiday season the best one your kids have had yet. This pressure can cause a lot of anxiety and we want to remind you that the holidays are about connecting with your loved ones.
No holiday season is going to be perfect no matter how hard you try or how many trips you make to the store. When thinking back on your own childhood, chances are your favorite and most memorable moments are when the Christmas tree was knocked over, or the turkey was burnt to the point that ordering a pizza was the only option. The only memories that stand the test of time are ones where we are spending time with our loved ones.
That being said, having all of your family together at once can cause problems on its own. Your family members are hopefully your biggest support system but it can also be a group of people with a lot of opinions on just about everything. If this is the case for your holiday season it is even more important that you are taking time for yourself. When you have a family that causes you stress and exerts themselves into all of your parenting decisions remember that nobody knows what it is like to be in your shoes. Try to look at their unsolicited advice as them loving you and doing what they think would help you. If you start to feel overwhelmed by having all of your family in one place don't feel bad about taking a moment away from it all. Whether it is running an errand by yourself and "taking the long way home," or carving out time for you to do something that relaxes you, it is not selfish to make sure you are okay before making sure everyone else is too.
Reflect on what you are grateful for
This time of year is all about being thankful for what we have, at the same time it is also a time of mass consumerism and a lot of people focus on getting the newest, best gifts and when they cannot it can have a negative impact on their mental health. Try and use this time of year to look at what you do have and be grateful for those things. Make this a talking point at your dinner table and try and get everybody talking about what they are grateful for. This act of mindfulness and reflection can bond you with the people around you and can also help to remind you that you have a lot of good things in your life.
Check-in on those you love
Like the mother in the first paragraph mentioned, this is a time where a lot of people get to interact with their loved ones, sometimes loved ones that they haven't seen in a long time. This gives you not only the opportunity to connect and make memories with them but also the chance to ask them how they are doing and if they have been making their mental health a priority. Breaking down stigmas surrounding mental health starts at home, and often times starts at the dinner table. By making it a point to talk about mental health with the ones you love you can show them that you are someone they can always turn to if they need it.
It is often said that it is your strongest family member or friend that might need the most help. Those "strong people" are the ones that are always helping solve other people's problems and helping others out. They may feel like they don't want to burden someone with their own mental health needs. Make all of the family time associated with the holiday season useful by doing little check-ins with all of your loved ones. Go to those aunts, grandfathers, nieces, etc., that seem to have it all together and are the "backbones" of the family unit and see that they are doing okay. Let them know that it is okay to reach out for help if they were to ever need it.
For a useful tool on how to bring up mental health topics with your family click here
While taking care of yourself and focusing on yourself during the holiday season is important we also recognize that "the holidays" don't look the same to everybody. If you have to work during the holiday or you are not in a situation where you are able or want to spend time with family it can be a very isolating time of year. We at PA Parent and Family Alliance recognize that "the holiday season" means so many different things to so many different people. A lot of people do not have the "cookie-cutter holiday season" and that can make some of those people sad.
The most important part of making your mental health a priority is to give yourself a break and push off these societal pressures of what this time of year is supposed to be. If you don't have or are unable to get together with family for whatever reason redefine what you mean by "family." The word simply means a group of people who have unconditional love for each other, and a group of friends can absolutely be your family. Getting together with loved ones and reflecting on the year and celebrating together is what it is all about.