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Mental Health & the Holidays

Mental Health & the Holidays

The holidays bring excitement and joy to many, and is often a time of celebration with family and friends over food and drink.

However, the holiday season, for many, can bring a sense of dread or pain or loneliness, and it is important that we all remember that not everyone looks forward to this time of year. Many who have experienced the loss of a loved one can find this time of year sad and hard, with each day or event serving as a reminder of someone who is no longer here. Those with social anxiety may find the obligation to attend a dinner or party daunting, or even terrifying. Someone who is struggling financially may feel guilty or distraught under the pressures to spend or even go into debt to give presents to family and friends. Children of divorce may be feeling down that the family cannot all be together. There are so many reasons for someone to find this time of year less than awesome, and it is important for all of us to take care of our mental health over the holidays, especially since the season of giving often means we neglect ourselves.

Here are some tips to help you keep a clear, calm head:

  1. Get enough sleep – While this may be easier said than done, good quality sleep is so important for a healthy head. You want to aim for 7-8 hours of uninterrupted sleep, and it shouldn’t be booze or drug-induced sleep aka passing out at the end of the night. Sometimes this may mean leaving the party early, or saying no to that next glass of wine, or setting the kids up for a good night’s sleep as well. While it may seem impossible with everything you need to accomplish this month, your body and brain will thank you when they are rested and ready to go. And never discount a good nap – sometimes that’s all you need to keep the day going.
  2. Take Vitamin D – Also known as the happy vitamin, D has been shown in several studies to have a positive effect on mental health. Vitamin D deficiency is linked to bipolar disorder, depression, anxiety and schizophrenia. In Canada, especially over the winter months, we often lack the sunshine needed to help our bodies produce enough Vitamin D, so a good quality supplement can go a long way. I recommend taking 2000-4000IU/day of liquid Vitamin D, taken with fat to ensure absorption.
  3. Avoid processed and refined foods – While this recommendation is just good practice all the time, manufactured foods containing hidden refined sugars and highly processed flours and other ingredients can take a toll on your brain. These foods have been shown to cause brain fog, increase feelings of anxiety, and can leave us feeling tired and down from spikes and falls in blood sugar. I am not saying to never indulge, but try to stick to real whole foods, and be choosy as to when you say yes to this kind of food and when you say no.
  4. Eat lots of healthy fats – Your brain loves healthy fats, and needs them to run efficiently. Fats from animal products, olives and olive oil, avocados and avocado oil, and coconut and coconut oil are your best sources of fat. Vegetable, soy, canola and sunflower oil should be avoided, as these refined oils use scary chemicals in their processing, and can raise your insulin which in turn can increase feelings of anxiety. Consuming healthy fats can also help you feel satisfied, and prevent you from overeating.
  5. Take it easy on the sauce – For many of us, the holidays mean an increase in alcohol consumption. Contrary to how silly you might feel after a couple of wobbly pops, alcohol is a depressant, meaning it brings your mood down. It is also important to note if you are drinking to make you feel more relaxed in a social situation, or to forget about something that is making you upset or sad; you should not be using booze to medicate or as a crutch. Maybe this year is the year you choose to be the designating driver at a couple of events rather than drinking at every one. Or you choose to seek the comfort of a friend over the comfort from a glass of wine. Cutting back on the amount and number of times you drink over the holidays can be very beneficial to your brain.
  6. Set and respect boundaries – Setting boundaries can be as simple (or as hard) as saying no to a social engagement, or as complicated as staying away from family that makes you feel upset or uncomfortable. However, knowing what your triggers are, those people or places or moments that make you feel angry or sad or upset, and avoiding them when you can, is the best decision for your mental health. Know that you do not need to feel guilty for making decisions that are the best for your well-being. And also know that it is important for you to respect the decisions of family and friends who are doing the same. If someone turns down your party invite, realize that they may have things going on that you don’t know about, and find in yourself feelings of empathy and understanding rather than letting your ego take over.

The Niagara Region has many resources for those who have mental health issues and may need some extra help over the holidays. Although we are in a mental health crisis and need more resources and funding, there are some current options that may help you.

Pathstone Mental Health offers a free walk-in counseling clinic available Monday to Thursday from 9-7pm, and Fridays from 9-4pm, located at 1338 Fourth Ave in St. Catharines. Their 24/7 crises line is 1-800-263-4944. They also offer child and youth counselling services for those 6-18 years old Monday to Friday from 8:30am-4:30pm at 1200 Fourth Ave.

The Distress Centre of Niagara region offers a 24/7 crises line for those with mental health needs, and the numbers for each city can be found on their website at For adults in crises, the Niagara Region’s CMHA (Canadian Mental Health Association) has a Crises Outreach and Support Team at 1-866-550-5205.

Start Me Up Niagara has an Outreach/Drop-In Centre, a safe place open 365 days a year, with mental health services on Wednesdays.

You can even look into alternative therapies, such as EquineAbility, a therapeutic horse riding facility, as a means to step away from conventional treatments.

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