A Message from the City Manager
The responsibilities we have in our lives change daily and sometimes can feel overwhelming. In response to the increased levels of employee burnout revealed during the pandemic, the City’s Human Resources Department has been heavily invested in overall wellness for employees, creating several ongoing health initiatives. The hope is that with increased education and resources, employees are empowered to have honest conversations with their supervisors and family members about their mental health and when they need to seek help.
Earlier this year, the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline was activated across the country. The three-digit number will make it easier for Marylanders to access 24/7 crisis prevention care and connect veterans to the Veterans Crisis Line.
The days of not talking about mental health are gone. Maintaining positive mental health is important because it allows us, as individuals, to cope with challenges and setbacks in our lives, both at work and at home.
Maintaining Mental Health During the Holiday Season
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 in 64% of individuals and families coping with mental health challenges, the holiday season can be a lonely or stressful time, filled with anxiety and/or depression, making their existing conditions worse.
Tips for Coping
- Take Steps to Stay Safe
Take steps to stay healthy and safe during this season (and all others). COVID-19 continues to pose a severe risk to communities, as well as the flu, RSV, and other viruses.
- 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.
- 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.
As we near the end of the year, it’s a good time to reflect back on what you are grateful for, then thank those who have supported you. Gratitude has been shown to improve mental health.
- 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.
- Manage your Time
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.
- 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.
- 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.
The act of volunteering can provide a great source of comfort, you can also feel less lonely or isolated and more connected to your community.
- 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 nad 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.
- Avoid Alcohol and Drugs
They don’t actually reduce stress: in fact, they often worsen it.
Find Support. Seek Therapy. Take your Medicine.
Continue (or seek) therapy and/or medication. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, it may be time to share with your mental health professional. Whether it’s with friends, family, a counselor or a support group, airing out and talking can help. If you or someone you love is experiencing a crisis, you can:
- Call the National Suicide Prevention Line: 1-800-273-8255
- Use the Crisis Text Line to connect with a trained crisis counselor for free: TEXT "NAMI" to 741-741
- Or call the NAMI Helpline for free mental health info, referrals and support: 1-800-950-NAMI (6264)
Medication relieves the symptoms of a medical disorder. It is no more an indication of weakness than taking medication for high blood pressure. Stigmatizing the taking of medication as a weakness implies that if the patient would just get it together and work harder, medication wouldn’t be necessary. This is akin to advising someone with high blood pressure to just relax. In fact, it takes strength to recognize that you have an illness that can be helped with medication and that you need to use every tool available to take care of yourself.
What Can You Do About It?
McLean's Guide to Managing Mental Health Around the Holidays
...There are ways in which we can prepare ourselves and hopefully deflect some of the increased stress of the holidays. It’s important to realize that we do have more control than we think we do. However, it’s equally important to realize that even if we put these ideas into practice and continue to feel overwhelHmed or depressed, professional help is available.
We’ve identified six common issues that come up this time of year, as well as suggestions from our mental health experts for ways to address them.
You’re Lacking the “Holiday Spirit”
Being surrounded by cheeriness can be stigmatizing when you don’t feel the same level of enthusiasm as others. The pressure to be social, happy, and present can make it difficult to speak up if you feel otherwise. You may also feel left out if your spiritual traditions aren’t the dominant ones on display this time of year.
What You Can Do About It:
- Recognize that you don’t need to force yourself to be happy and that it’s good to acknowledge feelings that aren’t joyful; remember that you are not alone in feeling this way
- Avoid numbing or avoiding feelings by using alcohol or other substances, which worsen anxiety and depression
- If possible, surround yourself with people who feel similarly; celebrate your traditions or create new ones
You’re Overwhelmed by Grief & Loss
If you are living with grief, loss, trauma, or loneliness, it can be easy to compare your situation to others’, which can increase feelings of loneliness or sadness.
Take time to check in with yourself and your feelings and have realistic expectations for how the holiday season will be. If you are dealing with loss or grief, gently remind yourself that as circumstances change, traditions will change as well.
What You Can Do About It
- If holiday observances seem inauthentic right now, you do not need to force yourself to celebrate. During this time, connect with and plan to check in with a support group, a therapist, a faith community, or friends who understand.
- As much as possible, let your loved ones know how they can support you, whether it’s helping you with shopping or meeting up for a regular walk. Often, people want to help but don’t know what to say or where to start.
You’re Feeling Pressured to Participate in Activities— and Want No Part of Them
We all have our own personal history with holidays. We dream about the ways the holidays are supposed to be, which can be a dangerous perspective. We get caught up in wanting to do it all, but we can aim to set more realistic expectations for ourselves and others.
What You Can Do About It
- Accept your limitations and be patient with others too
- Try to see others’ points of view and recognize that we’re all feeling at least a little stressed— especially this year
- Prioritize the most important activities or schedule get-togethers for after the holidays: If you feel overwhelmed by social obligations and what others are asking of you, learn how to be comfortable saying “no”
- Expectations to celebrate holidays in a specific way can bring up old trauma or family conflicts; for self-care, consider outlining your plan for the season
- Speaking of self-care, make a schedule of when you will do your shopping, baking, cleaning— and be sure to schedule time to take care of yourself
- You may choose not to celebrate at all—instead of spending the holidays the way you think you should, you might opt for an activity you actually feel like doing—whether it’s making a favorite dish or having a Netflix marathon
- Regardless of your plans, it can be helpful to communicate intentions to friends and family early in the holiday season so everyone knows what to expect
You’re Stressed About Giving Gifts
It’s very common to get caught up in the commercialization and marketing of the holidays.
We can feel stressed about spending on a strained budget or from trying to find just the right gift. Giving to others is not about spending money. And of course, what goes along with setting realistic expectations is maintaining a budget and being transparent.
What You Can Do About It
- Consider how much money you can comfortably spend and stick to the amount. If purchasing gifts for everyone is difficult, consider having a Secret Santa or White Elephant exchange to reduce the number of items everyone needs to buy. You can also simply let people know you are unable to give gifts this year.
- You can also give the gift of helping a neighbor, a friend, a family member, or a stranger. It’s the act of giving that is more important than a present. Our generosity can be a gift to ourselves, because when we focus on others, and less on ourselves, we tend to reduce our anxiety.
There’s Not Much Sunlight at All, and It’s Affecting Your Mood
In the northern hemisphere, the holidays coincide with winter’s lack of available sunlight. Less exposure to natural light can lead to new or increased symptoms of depression.
What You Can Do About It
- Try to get as much sunlight as possible.
- To boost your mood and regulate sleep, schedule outdoor exercise in the middle of the day when the sun is brightest. If you can, work near a window throughout the day. Even outfitting your home with warm, bright lighting can help improve your mood. Many traditions this time of year incorporate candles and twinkling lights for a reason.
- If you feel the need to slow your pace and hunker down this time of year, consider reframing the winter months as an opportunity to work on “quieter” projects and activities suited for the indoors, such as writing, knitting, or taking online courses.
- Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a more severe form of the winter blues. According to researchers, the percentage of people in the United States who struggle with SAD ranges from 1.5% in southern Florida to 9% in northern states. If you feel hopeless, have suicidal thoughts, or changes in appetite and sleep patterns, talk to your doctor. Effective treatments for SAD include light therapy, talk therapy, and medication.
You’re Alone or Feeling Isolated
While it’s true that many of us have friends and family to connect with during the holiday season, there’s also the danger of becoming isolated. If you are predisposed to depression or anxiety, it can be especially hard to reach out to others.
What To Do About It
- Remind yourself of the people, places, and things that make you feel happy. Consider scheduling a regular call or video chat with friends on a weekly or biweekly basis so you don’t have to think twice about making the effort.
- Take advantage of other ways to connect, including sending out holiday cards and communicating with family and friends by phone, text, email, and social media.
- Calming activities, such as reading, meditating, and gratitude journaling, can be helpful if you don’t feel comfortable in social situations.
- Don’t forget about self-care. We know the importance of a balanced diet, moderate exercise, and plenty of sleep, but because there are so many distractions and stressors this time of year, we lose sight of some of the basic necessities. We need to take care of ourselves and pay increased attention to ensuring we fulfill these areas of our lives as we get closer to the holidays.