Coping skills for the holidays
Ah, the holidays—the loneliest, most panic-inducing, and self-harm provoking time of the year (for me, anyway)! This year, I had planned to share tips for coping with this unusual holiday season in my newsletter, but Broadview graciously offered to publish them on their website.
You can read the full piece here, and you can find a sample of what to expect below (plus a positive response plan you can use during the holidays).
Like many couples, my partner and I celebrated the holidays alone for the first time in our seven-year relationship last year. Our usual routine of crisscrossing southern Ontario to spend a few hours with our families was out of the question. It was bittersweet to talk to our relatives through screens, but everyone understood health and safety was the greatest gift we could hope for.
This year, our families are vaccinated and eager to reunite and celebrate Christmas, but rising COVID-19 rates in Ontario, not to mention the financial and emotional pressure the holidays bring, are making me anxious about returning to the rigamarole. In an Angus Reid poll released in December, 53 percent of Canadians said they are feeling more holiday stress this year than most previous years. Like many people with a diagnosed mental illness, the holidays can make my condition a lot worse, and it’s already shaping up to be a tense Christmas. Some family members have opted out of celebrating as a group, while others insist on it, creating divisions sure to bleed into Christmas Day.
Positive v. Negative Responses
Below, I’ve included a positive response plan shared with me by chef Kenzie Osborne, host of a webinar I attended about navigating the holidays—an excellent resource to cope ahead with the holidays. Osborne is a writer, personal coach, mental health speaker, and my fellow 2021-2022 Yale University Fellow. Osborne’s work involves fostering new relationships with food, and she recently penned a post about navigating the holidays through the lens of living with an eating disorder.
This issue: The holiday suicide myth
I can’t pen a holiday post without addressing a common and harmful mental health myth—that suicide rates spike over the holidays. According to the Centre for Suicide Prevention, suicide rates actually remain fairly consistent throughout the year. In fact, a 2011 US-based study found a decrease in people using psychiatric emergency services during the holidays.
It’s not entirely clear how the holiday suicide myth got started, but many sources point to the 1946 film, It’s a Wonderful Life, a movie about a man considering suicide during Christmas. From there, media organizations continued to perpetuate the myth—hell, before I started researching the topic, I thought the suicide rate increased over the holidays. For two decades, the Annenberg Public Policy Center has analyzed how many American newspaper stories reported on the false link between suicide and the holidays, and the good news is that things are getting better. In 2013, 70 per cent of news articles on suicide continued the holiday myth; in 2020, of the 16 stories that referenced a connection, only 63 per cent of news articles falsely drew a connection between suicide rates and the holidays.
The danger of blaming rising suicide rates on the holidays is it might mask the real causes of what’s driving people to die by suicide. In a Healthline article, April Foreman, suicidologist and co-founder of Suicide Prevention and Social Media (SPSM), told the story of a small town where suicide rates consistently increased during the holiday season. Though the rates were attributed to the holiday suicide myth, when researchers took a closer look, they found the town’s primary industry tended to lay people off around the holiday season.
The DBT Skills Workbook for Anxiety: Breaking Free from Worry, Panic, PTSD, and Other Anxiety Symptoms
By: Alexander L. Chapman and Kim L. Gratz
I’ve recommended this book in an issue about coping with social anxiety, but some books are good enough to merit a second shout-out. In addition to social anxiety, Chapman and Gratz have adapted DBT skills to a number of mental health symptoms including worry and stress—two feelings I have in excess during the holidays. This workbook is focused on accessibility, and Chapman and Gratz make it easy for readers to practice skills with step-by-step guides.