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6 Ways To Cope With Holiday Depression

Are the holiday blues bogging you down? Find out how you can manage your emotions better so that you can still enjoy the Christmas season. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed how many of us are celebrating the holidays this year. As we struggle with financial insecurity, the death of loved ones, and fear of contracting the disease — all while being physically distanced from our usual support group — we may be feeling additional stress, sadness, or anxiety instead of love, peace, and joy. 

“First of all, it’s completely ok and normal if you do not feel happy during what is supposed to be the happiest time of the year,” says Riyan Portuguez, RPsy RPsm (also known as The Millennial Psychologist). “Studies have shown that the holidays can trigger or exacerbate feelings of isolation, grief, and sadness, and anxiety.

That being said, there are things you can do to minimize the stress and depression that you may be feeling during the holidays. Who knows, you may even end up enjoying it more than you thought you would.

  1. Plan ahead. When stress is at its peak, it’s hard to stop and regroup. So for next year, try to prevent strong emotions from hitting you hard during the holidays by doing all your Christmas preparations before December comes around, specifically shopping for presents and wrapping the gifts. “This way, you don’t have to go out as much during the weeks leading up to Christmas and see all the decorations or hear the music, all of which can trigger your depression,” says Riyan.
  1. Reduce social media use. When you are bombarded with images of other people enjoying time with their loved ones, enjoying their new gifts, or eating yummy food that you cannot afford, you will be reminded of what you don’t have and feel worse instead of happy. Take a social media break for your own peace of mind. 
  1. Remember the reason for the season. “If you are feeling down because you feel pressured to give gifts even though you have limited funds, reframe your thinking. Remind yourself of the things that matter — that you still have friends and/or family who care for you, that you have a house, food on the table, that you are alive — and celebrate those,” points out Riyan. “Don’t allow perfectionism — the idea that Christmas has to be commemorated a certain way  — to rule your life.” 
  1. Continue to do self-care. Exercise, sleep well, and eat healthy meals throughout the holidays. Overindulging will only compound your stress and guilt. 
  1. Acknowledge your feelings. If someone close to you has recently died or you can’t be with loved ones because of physical distancing measures, realize that it’s normal to feel sadness and grief. “Don’t force yourself to be happy just because it’s the holiday season,” says Riyan. “Cry if you want to cry.”
  1. Reach out. “If you are feeling isolated or lonely, ask a trusted friend or family member to spend time with you, even just virtually,” suggests Riyan. “Talking to them will ease your concerns and offer you support and companionship during this stressful time.”

Don’t let the holidays become something you dread. Instead, take steps to prevent the stress and depression that can descend during the holidays. Learn to recognize your holiday triggers, such as financial pressures or personal grief, so you can combat them before they overwhelm you. With a little planning and some positive thinking, you can find peace and joy during the holidays.

Despite your best efforts, if you find yourself feeling persistently sad, anxious, or hopeless, seek professional help. A good place to start is MindNation’s chat helpline on FB Messenger, which is open 24/7 (yes, even during the holidays). The service is free, completely confidential, and the staff is trained to ease your anxieties. 

— Written by Jaclyn Lutanco-Chua of MindNation

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Mental Health 101 Self Help

Mourning in the time of COVID-19

Grief is a normal, sorrowful reaction to losing someone (or something) you love. Grieving practices like funeral rites are important because they allow those left behind to process and handle their grief, allow people from different places to come together to support the grieving and commemorate the life of a person who has died, and form tighter bonds. 

Grieving during a pandemic, however, presents a new set of challenges. With social isolation policies in place, many family members have not been able to visit or take care of loved ones suffering from the disease, or hold a proper funeral when they pass away. 

If you have lost a loved one during the pandemic, know that it is normal to feel uncertain, unprepared, frustrated, or even angry at yourself. Being away from your normal support networks might also make you feel isolated and lost. But there are some things you can do to help cope with grief over the loss of a loved one during this difficult time. 

  1. “Remember that grief is a natural and ongoing response to loss,” assures Dr. Lillian Gui, a psychologist and former Chairwoman of the Counseling Division of the Psychological Association of the Philippines. “It is a healthy process of feeling comforted and coming to terms with the loss,” she adds. Because times today are more scary and uncertain, you might feel as if your sadness is more pronounced. But this does not mean that you should put your feelings off for another time; do not be afraid of any emotion you experience. 
  1. Don’t get caught up in guilt. When you are robbed of the opportunity to properly say good-bye to someone, you might start ruminating about whether your loved one was in pain before dying or feel guilt that you did not say or do something in time. You might also experience survivor guilt, which makes you feel that you should not enjoy things yourself. Know that it’s okay to experience positive feelings. “No one has the right to tell you how to feel,” Dr. Gui reminds. “There is no right or wrong emotion, so you are entitled to your own feelings.” 
  1. Make the most of virtual support. The in-person support systems you would normally turn to after the death of a loved one, like the extended family members who visit you or the friend who hugs you when you cry, are no longer available now. But you can still find comfort by staying digitally connected with others. While “virtual memorial services” fall short of actual graveside mourning surrounded by friends and family, they can still provide an outlet for collective grief. 
  1. Understand that a funeral during COVID-19 will be different. Acknowledge that there will be things you cannot control, such as the ban on social gatherings. Instead of feeling bad about it, focus on the details that you can control, such as enquiring if it would be possible to do a live stream or a recording of the service, arranging a digital guest book, or sharing messages from those not present. 
  1. Create a space for sharing memories. Sharing good memories about the deceased is helpful to bereaved people, so figure out ways to tell the story of the person who died. For example, you can create a Facebook group where people can share their stories, or organize a video chat conference for the same purpose.  
  1. Plan something special for when you and your loved ones can mourn together again. Think of the socially-distanced mourning you are able to do now as temporary measures. Be reassured that there will be a time when you can hold a more formal, in-person memorial. Planning a future service can even function as part of the grieving process. 
  1. Say good-bye in your own way. In your own time, find a quiet place where you can be alone, and say what you want to say to the other person as if they were still there. 
  1. Create rituals to memorialize your loved one. “Healthy grief is about finding ways to remember loved ones and adjust to life without them,” says Dr. Gui. So go ahead and engage in activities that make you feel attached to the deceased or fill you with fond memories of the person. This could be cooking a favorite recipe that you associate with them, making a playlist of songs that you both enjoyed, or writing a letter to them every week at the same time. 
  1. Be prepared. There will be events and moments in the future that will trigger your memories and sadness. When this happens, give yourself permission to express your grief in ways that work for you. To help sort through your feelings, Dr. Gui suggests journaling, using the following prompts:
  • What did the person mean to you?
  • What did you learn from him or her?
  • What good has come from this difficult experience?
  • What have you learned about yourself, other people, or life?
  • Are there things you appreciate more?
  • Who are the people who have been there for you? Were they the people you expected? What have you learned about them?
  • In what ways have you grown or matured based on this experience?
  1. Understand that you will heal. Rest assured that in time you will feel better and move forward in new and different ways.

The death of a loved one can be very stressful and traumatic, especially if regular mourning rituals are unavailable due to the current pandemic. Be gentle and patient with yourself as you go through the grieving process. “It’s okay to feel grief for days, weeks, or even longer,” says Dr. Gui. “Every person’s situation is different.” Slowly pace yourself and reach out for safe and helpful relationships, even if it’s just through virtual means. Lastly, don’t bypass the pain by bottling up your emotions or rejecting your feelings; this might cause you physical problems or lead into depression.

And if you really cannot contain or handle the pain anymore, seek professional help. MindNation connects individuals with counselors for emotional support and other services via web chat, 24/7, anytime, anywhere. The service is completely confidential and the staff is trained to help you ease your anxieties. Start chatting here: http://m.me/themindnation

Written by Jac of MindNation

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Featured Mental Health 101 Self Help Suicide Prevention

Do’s and Dont’s Supporting a Loved One Who Has Lost Someone to Suicide

CONTENT WARNING: This article includes descriptions of suicide that may disturb some readers

If comforting a sad friend is hard, supporting someone who has lost a loved one to suicide is especially difficult and awkward. Often times, the grieving person is not just depressed — they may also be feeling a mix of guilt, confusion, anger, or shame; worse, he may even have suicidal thoughts themselves.

In such cases, the key to helping your friend through this difficult loss is to offer a listening ear. Sit with your friend and listen to the story and feelings in a nonjudgmental way, without trying to problem-solve.

DO:

1. Address the elephant in the room.

Example: “I heard __ died by suicide; how are you?” is one way to start the conversation. Using the word “suicide” can be scary, but when you show your friend that that you are able to talk more openly about what happened, it eases the stigma and encourages him to open up.

2. Express your concern and don’t hide your feelings.

Even if you do not have all the answers, show your friend that you are aware that the death has affected him, and that you are there when he needs help. Example: “I’m sorry to hear that this happened. I’m not sure what to say, but I am here when you need me. Tell me what I can do.”

3. Be an active listener.

Often finding the right words is less important than letting your friend express himself. While you should never try to force your friend to open up when he is not ready, being able to have this conversation when he is ready is important.

Some strategies to be an active listener include:
  • Let your friend know that whatever he is feeling is OK — it’s okay to cry, become angry, or break down in front of you. Your friend should feel free to express feelings knowing that you are willing to listen without judgment, argument, or criticism.
  • Communicate non-verbally. If your friend is not yet ready to talk or you don’t know what to say, you can still show your support through eye contact, a squeeze of the hand, or a reassuring hug.
  • If you’ve gone through a similar loss, share your own experience, if you think it would help. However, don’t give unsolicited advice, claim to “know” what the person is feeling, or compare your grief to his or her.

DON’T say the following:

1. “I know how you feel.”

We can never know how another person may feel. It’s more helpful to ask your friend how he feels.

2.“There’s so much to be thankful for.”

Part of grieving is being able to experience the feelings of sadness and loss.

3.“He is in a better place now.”

Your friend may or may not share your religious beliefs. It’s best to keep your personal spiritual beliefs to yourself unless asked.

Watch Out for the Following Warning Signs:

If you notice any of the following warning signs after the initial loss, especially if they continue for more than two months, or if you feel that your friend is in danger of committing suicide himself, encourage him to seek counseling or connect him to suicide survivor support group resources.

  1. Extreme focus on the death
  2. Talking about the need to escape the pain
  3. Persistent bitterness, anger, or guilt
  4. Difficulty making it to class and declining grades
  5. A lack of concern for his/her personal welfare
  6. Neglecting personal hygiene
  7. Increase in alcohol or drug use
  8. Inability to enjoy life
  9. Withdrawal from others
  10. Constant feelings of hopelessness
  11. Talking about dying or attempting suicide

To avoid seeming invasive, state your feelings instead of outrightly telling your friend what to do: “I am worried that you aren’t sleeping. There are resources online that can help you.”

Remember that grief after losing someone to suicide can feel like a rollercoaster, full of intense ups and downs and everything in-between. People will never fully “get over” their loss, but over time, with your support, they can begin to heal.

We can all help prevent suicide. If you or a loved one is in distress, MindNationconnects individuals with counselors for emotional support and other services via web chat, 24/7, anytime, anywhere. The service is completely confidential and the staff is trained to help you ease your anxieties. Start chatting here: http://m.me/themindnation