Planning a ‘perfect’ Christmas may be dangerous for your mental health: expert

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Planning a ‘perfect’ Christmas may be dangerous for your mental health: Expert
WATCH ABOVE: The holiday season is a busy time, and the stresses can pose a serious threat to ones overall mental health. Global’s Jennifer Grudic has more on how you and your family can enjoy a mentally healthy holiday – Dec 22, 2016

The key to having a “perfect” holiday season may be in realizing that it doesn’t actually exist. At least one mental health expert says planning for a “perfect” Christmas may actually be dangerous for your mental well-being.

“Christmas is a time of intense emotions and if we go into [it] expecting everything to be wonderful … it’s not going to happen,” said Dr. Stan Kutcher, professor of psychiatry at Dalhousie University and Sun Life Financial chair in adolescent mental health.

“We’ve been held captive to about a decade of positive psychology which has taught us that everything is supposed to be wonderful, that everything’s supposed to be happy and there’s something wrong with us if we’re not happy. It’s a pernicious message,” said Kutcher, adding it’s important to be realistic in our expectations and to try and find joy in things we have control over.

“Negative emotions are a normal part of life. A Christmas event tends to be a time when emotions become more intense. Issues that we haven’t addressed with family members come to the surface at these times.”

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While reuniting with family and friends can be a joyous occasion, it can also be stressful and result in unwanted conflict.

“The problem there is not Christmas. The problem there is having had an appropriate conversation about mental health [and] mental illness with family members prior to Christmas,”
Kutcher said.

“It’s no different then if you have cancer or diabetes. If someone has diabetes and they’re in a family and the family members know about it then they accept it and they understand it, then they accommodate to that. We do that all the time … Mental illness should be no different.”

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Kutcher said in order to have positive interactions throughout the holidays, it’s important to approach relationships with a sense of compassion and understanding. He said it’s important for families to engage in open and honest conversations to better understand each others needs.

“There isn’t a nice little checklist of do this … don’t do this. It’s really knowing your family member,” Kutcher said.

“It’s knowing your brother, sister, your aunt, your uncle, your parents. Knowing who they are as people and respecting who they are as people and being honest and open with them.”

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Hilary Rankin is the managing director of Laing House – a drop-in centre for youth living with a mood disorder, psychosis and/or anxiety disorder.

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She said the holidays can be a highly stressful time for youth who may be reuniting with their families.

“What tends to help best is to listen, embrace the silence. Validate the way they’re feeling. You don’t need to ‘jolly people up’,” said Rankin, adding the pressure to appear “happy-go-lucky” can often cause additional stress for someone who is already struggling.

Laing House “List of Supports for the Holidays”
1) Maintain Routine
• Sleep
• Exercise
• Diet

2) Stay Connected
• Avoid Isolation
• Reach out to a friend
• Stay in touch

3) Healthy Living
• Fresh Air
• Socialize
• Exercise

4) Enjoy the Moment
• Be Mindful
• Know your Limits
• Stay Present

5) Focus on the things you love
• Family
• Friends
• Community

6) Get in the spirit
• Decorate
• Bake
• Sing Carols

Additional resources:

Canadian Mental Health Association ‘Tips for Mental Wellness During The Holidays’.

Kids Help Phone

Mental Health Foundation of Nova Scotia


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