Language we use in our verbal and written communications can be supportive or hurtful to those impacted by mental health conditions. Here are some examples of what to say — and not to say — about mental health.
The holidays can be a joy-filled season, but they can also be stressful and especially challenging for those impacted by mental illness.
A NAMI study showed that 64% of people with mental illness report holidays make their conditions worse. “For many people the holiday season is not always the most wonderful time of the year,” said NAMI medical director Ken Duckworth (in an interview before the pandemic). For individuals and families coping with mental health challenges, the holiday season can be a lonely or stressful time, filled with anxiety and/or depression. If you’re living with a mental health condition, stress can also contribute to worsening symptoms. Examples: in schizophrenia, it can encourage hallucinations and delusions; in bipolar disorder, it can trigger episodes of both mania and depression.
Here are some suggestions for how you can reduce stress and maintain good mental health during the holiday season:
Accept your needs. Be kind to yourself! Put your own mental and physical well-being first. Recognize what your triggers are to help you prepare for stressful situations. Is shopping for holiday gifts too stressful for you? What is making you feel physically and mentally agitated? Once you know this, you can take steps to avoid or cope with stress.
Manage your time and don’t try to do too much. Prioritizing your time and activities can help you use your time well. Making a day-to-day schedule helps ensure you don’t feel overwhelmed by everyday tasks and deadlines. It’s okay to say no to plans that don’t fit into your schedule or make you feel good.
Be realistic. Even pre-pandemic, the happy lives of the people shown in those holiday commercials are fictional. We all have struggles one time or another and it’s not realistic to expect otherwise. Sometimes, it’s simply not possible to find the perfect gift or have a peaceful time with family. (Yes, even Zoom family gatherings can be stressful!)
Set boundaries. Family dynamics can be complex. Acknowledge them and accept that you can only control your role. If you need to, find ways to limit your exposure.
Practice relaxation. Deep breathing, meditation and progressive muscle relaxation are good ways to calm yourself. Taking a break to refocus can have benefits beyond the immediate moment.
Exercise daily. Schedule time to walk outside, bike or join a dance class. Whatever you do, make sure it’s fun. Daily exercise naturally produces stress-relieving hormones in your body and improves your overall physical health. More on the benefits of movement.
Set aside time for yourself and prioritize self-care. Schedule time for activities that make you feel good. It might be reading a book, going to the movies, getting a massage, listening to music you love, or taking your dog for a walk. It’s okay to prioritize alone time you need to recharge. More on self-care.
Eat well. With dinners, parties, and cookie trays at every turn, our eating habits are challenged during the holiday season. Try to maintain a healthy diet through it all. Eating unprocessed foods, like whole grains, vegetables, and fresh fruit is the foundation for a healthy body and mind. Eating well can also help stabilize your mood.
Get enough sleep. Symptoms of some mental health conditions, like mania in bipolar disorder, can be triggered by getting too little sleep. More on getting good sleep.
Avoid alcohol and drugs. They don’t actually reduce stress: in fact, they often worsen it. If you’re struggling with substance abuse, educate yourself and get help.
Volunteer. The act of volunteering can provide a great source of comfort. By helping people who are not as fortunate, you can also feel less lonely or isolated and more connected to your community. You can find out if there is a safe way to volunteer in your community.
Find support. Whether it’s with friends, family, a counselor or a support group, airing out and talking can help. Consider attending a free support group provided by your local NAMI California affiliate. If you or someone you love is experiencing a crisis, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Line at 1-800-273-8255; use the Crisis Text Line by texting NAMI to 741-741 to connect with a trained crisis counselor for free, 24/7 crisis support via text message; or call the NAMI Helpline at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264) M–F, 7 a.m.–3 p.m. PT for free mental health info, referrals and support.
Keep up or seek therapy. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, it may be time to share with your mental health professional. They can help you pinpoint specific events that trigger you and help you create an action plan to change them. If you’re already seeing a therapist, keep it up.
Suggestions for how to support LGBTQI+ community members, including friends, family members, colleagues, and neighbors who must confront stigma and prejudice based on their sexual orientation or gender identity while also dealing with the societal bias against mental health conditions.
We are all impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and we are all in this together. To address the impacts, we have advice for those living with mental health conditions, de-stressing tips, and more trusted information to support us all through this difficult time.
We are all doing the best we can during this difficult time, and we have been inspired by seeing community members share activities and practices that are helping them cope while they’re staying home to protect the public health.
Let’s inspire one another with images of what we’re doing to stay comforted at home! Join our #TeamNAMIComfortAtHome challenge by sharing photos that show what you and your family are doing to take care of your well-being, de-stress, or just unplug from the news for a while. It could be creating chalk art on sidewalks with your kid’s art, practicing yoga in your living room, jumping rope in the driveway, playing catch with your dog, weeding your garden, or FaceTiming a friend for a virtual coffee date. You get the idea! Tag us in photos of the activities or practices that are helping you feel better and we will share favorites. Use #TeamNAMIComfortAtHome on your social media posts and tag us (and friends to spread the word!), or send them to us using the form on this page.
Physical distancing and being confined to home is challenging for many, especially those with mental health conditions. Many community members are expressing unease or anxiety about spending more time alone at home and away from others. It’s important that we do our best to take care of ourselves and check in on loved ones who might face mental health challenges during this time.
NAMI is the nation’s largest grassroots mental health organization and has always relied heavily on supporters in communities throughout the country, including here in California. In addition to becoming a member, you can help raise funds for and awareness of mental health by hosting a fundraising event in your community with your family, friends, and/or coworkers. Here are some tips from NAMI.