The holidays are a time of giving, serving, and appreciating what you have. These expressions of gratitude may be easier for some than they are for others for a variety of reasons, including where one may be “at” in a recovery journey or what’s going on with their mental health. While many look forward to the holidays all year, others dread them, simply because things don’t feel very “holly-jolly” in their minds and bodies.
We’re here to say, that’s okay. It’s okay to feel overwhelmed by the holiday season, as it is a busy time with added life stressors, and it’s okay to find constructive ways to manage that stress. Read on to learn ways to practice selflessness and service, and how that can positively impact your mental health.
Mental Health and the Holidays
The holidays can be a festive time, filled with family, friends, and fun activities. While many are off work or away from school for winter break, social calendars and to-do lists can quickly become extensive and overwhelming. The holidays can be a cherished time of year, but they also come with unique stresses that, for many individuals already struggling with mental health, can be debilitating. A study from the National Alliance on Mental Illness found that 64% of people with mental illnesses reported the holidays made their conditions worse. This is true for many healing from mental health conditions like substance use or eating disorders.
For individuals recovering from years of substance or alcohol use, it’s an added challenge to resist relapsing when attending holiday parties where they may have access to substances. For others who are navigating recovery from eating disorders, the emphasis on food throughout the holiday season is difficult. Additionally, the holidays come at the time of year when some are most impacted by Seasonal Affective Disorder or Seasonal Depression. If someone is affected by seasonal affective disorder, they may be struggling with guilt and shame for not feeling “festive” or not being excited to celebrate with others.
It’s important to be aware of the mental and emotional challenges others may be facing this season. By showing compassion and understanding, everyone can make the holidays a little easier for those struggling with their mental health.
If you or a loved one are struggling with mental health this holiday season, a great way to combat certain mental challenges is by serving others.
Selfless Service Is Healing
Someone seeking mental health care is often prompted to look introspectively. Healing happens when someone spends the necessary time looking inward, figuring themselves out, and understanding and caring for themselves, often with the help of a therapist or other behavioral health professional or self-help resources like books and social media accounts that focus on well-being. However, for some struggling with their mental health, this self-evaluation practice isn’t enough. It may contribute to a sense of disconnection from others or feel as if something is “missing.”
What may prove to be helpful in these scenarios is serving others. Research shows that being kind to others and meeting other people’s needs helps our own mental well-being by lowering stress levels and boosting self-esteem and happiness. By physically and mentally changing the focus from introspective, the focus on oneself, to extrospective, which is what exists outside of oneself, we have the power to improve our mental well-being.
Whether it’s helping your elderly neighbor, a close friend with chores, or going as far as volunteering in your community, not only are you making a positive impact on others, but you are also making a positive impact on yourself and actively initiating healing.
How Serving Others Can Help You Heal and Grow
Spending time working to better others’ lives, in turn, betters our own lives by bringing a sense of accomplishment and pride from our efforts. Look for ways to get involved in your community and you’ll discover a wealth of opportunities that will help you make the world a better place for yourself and others around you, such as volunteering at a soup kitchen or homeless shelter, cleaning up local parks and beaches, or even something as simple as helping someone cross the street. When volunteering in your local community, whether you’re part of a team or working on a project by yourself, you’re working toward a common goal for others’ good. This allows for a greater sense of belonging and achievement, which initiates your own healing. By serving others, you empower yourself.
Another common form of service that can often be found in recovery circles is the idea of supporting or mentoring others who have similar life experiences and struggles. Famously, 12-step programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) focus on service as the final step of the program by requiring one to carry the message to others and put the principles of the program into practice every day. Doing so can remind us of what we should be grateful for, even in the midst of our own hardships, and helps to keep the focus on the work of recovery. AA founder Bill W. was known to say that the only way to keep (recovery) is to give it away.
Across the spectrum of mental health diagnoses, engaging in acts to help others, such as speaking publicly about mental illness and recovery, is one of the most powerful forms of service one can engage in. Being honest and vulnerable can inspire gratitude, connection, and initiate personal growth.
How to Help Yourself and Your Community
While the benefits of doing good for yourself and others are more than inspiring, it may be overwhelming to know where to start. Here are some ideas to help you get started:
- Volunteering to serve at a soup kitchen
- Volunteering at or donating to a local homeless shelter (blankets are always a great donation item)
- Volunteering at an animal shelter or fostering pets for a local rescue
- Baking sweet treats or making a meal for your neighbors
- Visiting someone who may be alone this season, such as an elderly widow or neighbor
- Participating in an auction, walk, or rally that raises funds for a local organization
- Performing acts of random kindness for friends and family members, like writing a card that expresses your appreciation for them
- Offering to help out a friend or loved one who is struggling by offering to get them out of the house, picking up groceries or household items, or encouraging and accompanying them while seeking out support services
- Donating to your favorite charities in your name or someone else’s
Even when there may not be time or easily accessed opportunities to engage in structured forms of service like those mentioned above, the simple act of engaging with others and the world from a place of generosity and opting to choose the loving behavior whenever possible can have an immeasurable impact on one’s wellbeing.
Engaging in acts of service and being compassionate toward others gives someone the power to change their narrative. While this may not cure the holiday blues immediately, one may find that a shift in mindset and approach helps to make holidays more bearable. Helping others contributes to the sense of belonging that is key to creating and sustaining wellbeing.
Galen Hope Is Here for You
While serving others can boost your mood and provide relief from mental health conditions, sometimes professional care is needed. The experts at Galen Hope are ready to help anyone struggling with their mental health. As you seek to serve others this holiday season, let us serve you by providing the quality comprehensive care you may need.
For more information or to schedule a consultation, visit: https://galenhope.com/contact/