Simple Thoughts of Thanks: Mental Health Awareness During the Holidays

Although for many people the holiday season brings joy and excitement, those who struggle with mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety may find it particularly difficult to get into the holiday spirit. A survey taken by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) found that 24% of participants diagnosed with a mental illness report that the holidays make their condition “a lot” worse, and 40% reported the holidays make their condition “somewhat” worse. This may be the case because the holidays often put a lot of pressure on individuals to feel happy and to be social, and within such social situations, individuals are asked by family members and friends about responsibilities and plans that may be stressful to think about, such as school, jobs, and their love life.

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As someone who struggles with depression and anxiety, I understand how difficult it is to suddenly immerse myself in obligatory social situations during the holidays, such as family gatherings. With this impending holiday season, in particular, I can already feel my depression and anxiety increasing, first with the thought of finals, and then the anxiety-inducing thought of being around extended family that I essentially only see once or twice a year. It’s difficult year-round to remember what and who I am thankful for since my mental illness seems to be ever-present. I want to share a few things that I am thankful for, and that has helped me overcome my depression and anxiety. If you struggle with mental illness like me, maybe this shortlist will help you recall some of the things that make you happy and are thankful for.

1. My Loved Ones

It is often so easy for me to forget how thankful I am for my partner, friends, and parents. They are the primary reason for me being alive today. I can’t even recall all the times my partner has helped me through depressive episodes and panic attacks. I can go to him for anything, and I am so thankful to have someone to love and to be loved by. I am also thankful for the few friends I have; I would rather have my five close friends than one hundred casual ones. I’m so lucky to have connected with these few people, and each of them have their own special place in my heart. I can’t forget to be thankful for my parents, who’ve been my biggest supporters. They encouraged me to get help when I needed it, and they’ve reminded me that my mental health comes first.

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2. My Body and Health

Even though I don’t eat the healthiest foods or exercise as much as I should, I’m thankful that my body has gotten me through every day. My physical health this year was good, and I take that for granted. On days when my mental health is poor, my body continues to care for itself as best as it can. I am grateful to be able-bodied, which isn’t to say that disabled bodies cannot or should not be thankful for their own bodies, too. Too often, I self-deprecate and point out the so-called flaws of my body when I should be thankful that I am in good health.

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3. Nights In

One of my favorite pastimes is staying in for the night at the end of the week or during the weekend to watch movies and be comfy. During the week, I’m so busy with school work that I forget to do things that make me feel good. I know that if I’m to do well in school and work, I need to learn how to take time for myself; so, I’m thankful for the nights I can do nothing and not feel guilty for not studying or doing work.

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4. Days Out

Although I love staying in at night under the blankets, during the day I like to relax by going outside and getting warmed up by the sun. I’ve found that for me, daily sun exposure really benefits my mental health. In fact, sunlight triggers the release of serotonin in the body. Seasonal depression is often caused by lack of sun exposure during certain seasons, which is why light therapy or phototherapy is available to those who experience this. During my days out, I also like to be surrounded by nature, so I try to go on hikes. I’m thankful to have easy access to hiking trails and sunlight in general, and I’d definitely recommend getting more time outside and in the sun to those whose mental health has been poor.

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5. What’s To Come

Thinking about what I will do in the future is scary but exciting. I’m thankful for the experiences I will have, the good and the bad. Depression can so easily convince me that the future isn’t something to look forward to. However, I know there will be more fun and happy times with my friends and partner, and I know there will be times that I will feel content with where I am. My 13-year-old self could not have imagined how well 20-year-old me would be doing, and I’m thankful to have lived to see that I can get better. I intend to have many more birthdays, many more laughs, many more cries, and everything in between.

I hope that sharing the things I am thankful for can help you remember the things you are thankful for, especially if you struggle with depression and anxiety like me. It’s important to take life one day at a time, even around the holidays, when everything can suddenly become hectic and feel overwhelming. It’s okay to take a step back and surround yourself with the people and things that help you overcome the bad moments.