Keep Calm and Take It Easy: Mental Health and the Holidays

The holiday season can be stressful and fraught even in ideal circumstances. This year, we’re also collectively coping with an ongoing pandemic, mourning, adjusting to the new normal, and separated from loved ones. 

As someone who struggles with depression, I have to be especially mindful of my mental health right now. There are a number of things I’m doing to keep my spirits up… besides spending a lot of quality time with my Pillow Talk Sassy.

Give yourself a break. 

We’re living through one of the most tumultuous years in modern history and it’s weighing on all of us. The holidays aren’t going to be as merry or bright this year, and that’s okay! In her piece Tips for Quarantine Self-Care, Felicity advises, “Give yourself time to process the changes. Do what you can, rather than worrying about what you normally would’ve accomplished pre-quarantine.” 

Overwhelmed just thinking about the holidays? Plan for less extravagant proceedings – or plan to skip them completely. For example, you can scale down your big traditional meals, or support local businesses and order out instead. You don’t have to exhaust yourself to make memories. 

Treat yourself like a potted plant. 

In the hustle, bustle, and stress of year’s end, it’s easy to overlook your basic needs. Who can make the time to eat breakfast when you’ve got laundry, cooking, cleaning, childcare, pet wrangling, and work to worry about? Even if your schedule isn’t overstuffed, sometimes it’s hard to find the motivation.

Lately I’ve been trying to conceptualize taking care of myself like taking care of a cute houseplant. Plants need an adequate amount of water, and good food. They need time in the sunlight to stretch out their leaves. And while it sounds silly to some, my mother swears that potted plants flourish best when you take the time to speak kindly to them. 

Have you been fed and watered enough today? Have you spent some time outside, or with a window thrown open? Are you treating yourself with tenderness and appreciation? You don’t have to have a green thumb to give yourself some love. 

Take the time to be charitable. 

Giving is always good (especially in a year like this, where there’s more need than ever), but it’s good for you too. “A 2007 study published in the journal Science found donating to a charity activates neural activity in areas of the brain that are linked to reward processing – the same areas that are activated by pleasures like eating and sex,” writes Psychology Today

It doesn’t have to be something big. You can look up your favorite artist, Youtuber, or blogger’s Ko-Fi or Patreon to support the content you love. You can search donation hashtags on social media like #TransCrowdFund and give directly to people in need. You can look up your local food pantry or chapter of the Sex Worker Outreach Project and donate. 

If your wallet is as cobwebbed as mine is, there are numerous kind acts you can do without money. Comment something positive on a friend or stranger’s social media post. Write a letter to someone incarcerated. Sign petitions for causes you care about

Spend time socializing and staying connected. 

Communication is no longer limited to the occasional postcard. Now you can document and share moments with loved ones as easily as picking up your phone, snapping a picture, and texting it or posting on social media. You can set up a laptop or tablet and video chat while you make food, stream a favorite movie, or drink a glass of wine. 

If you’re going it solo this year or feel like two-way communication is overwhelming, you can still spend time with people. Streaming platforms like Twitch and Youtube broadcast every day people doing everything from playing video games to telling stories about their day. You can passively listen and enjoy a friendly atmosphere without having to say anything back! 

Make time for masturbation – if you want to!  

According to Planned Parenthood, “Plenty of research has shown the health benefits of masturbation. Masturbation can: release sexual tension, reduce stress, help you sleep better, improve your self-esteem and body image, relieve menstrual cramps and muscle tension, [and] strengthen muscle tone in your pelvic and anal areas.” 

Feeling especially overwhelmed? Consider grabbing your favorite bottle of water-based lube, a silicone stroker or bullet vibe, and take some time for yourself. But don’t feel badly if you decide not to, either. 

“Although masturbation can be fantastic for your mental health, it’s important to be gentle with yourself,” Tawney Seren reminds us in Masturbation for Mental Health. “Some of us experience bouts with depression and anxiety and that can make it near impossible to want to touch ourselves or strip us of our libido. Masturbation is meant to be a comfortable action that you share with yourself, so if you do not desire it, do not beat yourself up for that.”

Take the time to pursue pleasure. 

During hard times, it can feel almost silly to go out of your way to feel good. But the world being on fire – oftentimes literally, this year – isn’t your fault, and punishing yourself by half-living isn’t going to solve global climate change. Our capacity for joy is part of what drives us to make the world a better place.

“You don’t need sex to feel good – or to indulge in the erotic,” I wrote in Choosing Celibacy Doesn’t Mean Giving Up Pleasure. “Depending on your interests and boundaries, there are numerous ways to experience pleasure, from the obvious (getting to know those wand attachments a little better) to the obscure (paper crumpling, anyone?)” Some of my recommendations included reading fanfiction, checking out ASMR content, getting a spanking, and “getting (or giving yourself) a slow, thorough massage with deliciously aromatic oil.” 

Avoid negativity spirals. 

How often have you found yourself restlessly scrolling through bad news on Twitter? Or staring at the ceiling in the middle of the night, fretting over things you can’t control? 

Sometimes we can’t help these things, especially if we’re neuroatypical. “Stay positive” is an empty platitude when you struggle with terrible depression or intrusive thoughts. But even for  those of us with mental illnesses, not every negative thought spiral or bad mood is unavoidable. When we’re able to, it’s important to do what we can to disrupt the cycle. 

Put down the phone or tablet, end the conversation, change the channel, get out of bed, block the Twitter troll. Spend a few minutes focusing on something useful: tidy your desk, start a bubblebath, text a friend something nice, play fetch with your dog, tell your child you’re proud of them. Your energy is a precious commodity; do what you can to refocus it. 

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