Are you a person who loves the winter holiday season? Perhaps you decorate your home—inside and out—with lights (maybe lots and lots of lights) and baubles and whatnots that remind you of wonderful times with family and friends. Maybe you love the big family meals during which everyone gathers around a huge table to dig into some of the most anticipated delicacies of the year. Perhaps gift-giving (and, sure, gift-receiving, too) is your greatest joy, and you spend hours finding a perfect surprise for every person on your list—and hours more wrapping them lovingly. Or perhaps you feel a strong connection to the religious traditions that underpin various wintertime celebrations—a sense of the sacred filling your heart with joy.
Maybe your love of the holidays comes from a combination of any and all of those things.
If that is your experience, we are delighted for you. Welcoming the holiday season can be a true joy.
But the holidays are not necessarily a time of joy for everyone—particularly those who may be struggling with a mental health disorder. Whether a loved one is struggling with seasonal affective disorder, one of the various kinds of depression, an anxiety or panic disorder, or a disorder based in trauma, you may find yourself frustrated that your family member can’t just revel in the holiday season with the same enthusiasm you do.
That is understandable. But the best gifts you can give a person struggling with a mental health disorder during the holidays are patience, advocacy, and grace. When you give those things to your loved one, you may well brighten their holiday season quite a bit.
Let’s consider each of the three gifts we have mentioned.
The Gift of Patience: You Can Allow Your Loved One to Opt In and Out of Activities
The holiday season often involves a lot of rushing around. There are concerts to attend, religious services to take part in, food to prepare, gifts to wrap, gathering to plan. It can be a lot.
And if it is a lot for you—a person who loves the holidays—you can imagine how it all might wear on a person who does not approach the holiday season with eagerness due to a mental health disorder. By simply accepting that your loved one may not wish to participate in the full slate of holiday festivities, you can help reduce their stress and make it more likely they will enjoy the activities they do choose to engage with.
This can require quite a bit of patience when you are the kind of person who believes everyone would have a great time if they just dove into the activity of the moment. Remembering that that simply is not true for everyone can help you be patient with a loved one.
The Gift of Advocacy: You Can Help Others Understand What is Going On
Gossip and judgmental attitudes do not take a vacation over the holidays. You may find yourself in conversations with people who speak ill of your loved one for one reason or another. These people may even suggest that more faith or a more positive attitude or a “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” mentality could magically cause your loved one’s difficulties to disappear.
You can give your loved one a truly powerful gift by refuting those ideas whenever you hear them aired. You don’t need to start a fight, of course. But you can take a moment to kindly and clearly remind those you are celebrating with that a mental health disorder is, in fact, a health disorder that requires treatment and that does not disappear just because someone wills it away.
The Gift of Grace: You Can Accept Your Loved One Just as they Are
When a person you love is struggling to make it through a difficult period—and as we have noted, the holidays themselves are a difficult period for many, many people—it can be tempting to try to cajole them out of their doldrums or to offer a series of platitudes meant to inspire some sort of change. Generally, we want to inspire that change for our own benefit as much—if not more—than we hope it will help the person to whom we offer the cheery talk.
But the best gift you can offer someone is love that they don’t have to earn by trying to meet your expectations or desires when they are in distress. Loving a person just as they are the very definition of the spirit of the holidays
Does a Loved One Need Help?
We have written about the gifts of patience, advocacy, and grace. There is one more gift you may be able to give your loved one: encouragement to seek mental health care. At Peak View Behavioral Health in beautiful Colorado Springs, we have the expertise and compassion necessary to help your loved one improve their mental health—and maintain those improvements over time. We are ready and able to help—no matter the season.