Keep the Holidays Simple This Year
​​​​​​​​by Karen Cimino​, Copywriter, Marketing & Communications​

​​​Loud parties, changes in routines, crowded stores, the expectation that you should be happy because
it’s the holidays – it all promises as much anxiety and stress as fun with family and friends. Parents of children with intellectual and developmental disabilities say they try to keep the holidays quiet and low key to minimize stress for their children, who often depend heavily on routines. 

Others who struggle with depression may feel pressured to have a good time and act happy. But the Mayo Clinic ​recomm​ends acknowledging your feelings, taking time for yourself to rejuvenate and reaching out to others to avoid feeling lonely. Those facing alcoholism or other substance use disorders may struggle with invitations to parties where friends or family offer wine and other alcoholic beverages. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration suggests several recipes for tasty non-alcoholic drinks and encourages party hosts to plan responsibly.

INTELLECTUAL AND DEVELOPMENTAL DISABILITIES

“Holidays for my son are sometimes just loud and crowded. It took me a long time to realize that it 
was truly ok for him to hide and play in a backroom during family gatherings,” said Kim Roe, Advocacy and Outreach Coordinator for Cardinal Innovations. “I have grown to respect his feelings and anxiety. What is important is that he is safe and happy, too.” Kim said Kevin is very literal. “He became very agitated talking about Santa Claus when he was young,” she said. “When I asked him why he didn’t like Santa Claus he said, ‘Why does he want to come down our chimney? Isn’t that breaking and entering? I don’t want him to come down the chimney and come in our house. That is scary.’ 

“A holiday story that warms hearts and excites children gave my son nightmares,” she added. “I
do not tell him stories that are not true anymore. No Santa Claus, no Easter Bunny, no Tooth Fairy. 
I enjoy seeing the world through his eyes even if itdoes add a little stress to the holidays.” Susan, the mother of a child with Moebius Syndrome, said, “The disruption in the schedule is the tough part. It’s difficult for my child to adapt.” “I try to keep things as low key as possible,” Susan said. She said that can be difficult for her other children who look forward to the hustle and bustle associated with Christmas and other holidays. 

Tim Simmons, the parent of a child with a developmental disability, said his child struggles with traveling during the holidays. “She doesn’t like a lot of change,” he said. He said planning ahead can make travel easier for everyone. His tips: travel with things that helpcalm the child like a special toy or music; schedule extra time and arrive early before other guests to give your child time to adjust to the new setting. Autism Speaks suggests creating a visual story using pictures or drawings to prepare the child for the upcoming holiday. The organization also suggests that the child practice sitting at the table with the plates, lighting and music before each holiday gathering. 

Another tip is to watch for signs of anxiety or distress and go outdoors or to a park so they can freely move and calm down. When decorating for the holidays, Autism Speaks recommends taking the child to a store to see Christmas tree lights or other décor that could be used. Caregivers should keep in mind whether the individual is drawn to the lights or has an aversion to them. Choosing the right type of decoration and explaining why it’s being used and when it will be removed can help, according to Autism Speaks.

TIPS FOR COPING WITH DEPRESSION

The Mayo Clinic recommends being realistic, planning ahead and seeking support to ward of
depression and stress during the holidays. The holidays are a time for large family gatherings and parties with friends, but those events can cause anxiety and stress for individuals living with mental illness or depression. About 6.7 percent of U.S. adults experience depression each year, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. Major depression can interfere with your ability to work, sleep and enjoy life. A stressful situation can trigger a depressive episode. 

The expectations, parties, shopping and entertaining that come with the holiday season can cause stress. That’s why it’s important to take steps to reduce stress and anxiety during the holidays, according to the Mayo Clinic, which offers the following tips for the holidays: 

- Acknowledge your feelings.
- Reach out to others if you feel lonely or isolated
- Be realistic and understand that as families change and grow, so do traditions 
- Set aside differences.
- Stick to a budget. Spending too much on food and gifts can be a source of stress.
- Plan ahead. Set aside specific days for shopping, baking and visiting friends and family.
- Learn to say no. You don’t have to go to every party.
- Eat healthy and exercise.
- Take time for yourself. Taking a walk, listening to soothing music or reading a book are good
ideas to help reduce stress during the holidays.
- Seek professional help if you still feel sad or anxious, unable to sleep, irritable or hopeless
and unable to complete routine chores.

The National Alliance for Mental Illness suggests maintaining regular sleep and meal
schedules, exercising, taking medication, keeping appointments with mental health professionals 
and attending support groups as ways to cope during the busy holiday season. 

PREVENTING AN ADDICTION RELAPSE OVER THE HOLIDAYS

Individuals facing substance use disorders can also struggle during the holidays to prevent a
relapse, but there are a few tips to help make it through the season. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration suggests avoiding using alcohol as the main focus of social events. Instead, party hosts should entertain guests with music, dancing, food, games and lively conversation.
SAMSHA also suggests that hosts provide nutritious and appealing foods to slow the effects 
of alcohol if it is served. 

Clearview Treatment, a mental health treatment center in Southern California, offers advice for the holidays on its website. Suggestions encourage individuals to: be selective about the events they attend during the holidays; exercise and eat a balanced diet; rely on family and close friends to help avoid triggers; attend support group meetings; get treatment; participate in positive activities such as volunteering at a nonprofit; and avoid triggers.​