Small Steps Through The Holidays

When we are struggling with a mental health condition such as depression, anxiety, or trauma, even minor tasks can seem overwhelming, especially during the holidays.  How will we get out of bed and make it to work on time? How will we smile at social events when everything hurts inside? How will we meet everyone’s expectations?  

The changes in appetite, energy, motivation, concentration and sleep that come along with mental illness can affect our ability to simply function in our usual roles.

Oftentimes, well meaning friends and family can offer words of encouragement or advice.  “Why don’t you just go for a run?” Or: “You just need to socialize more.” Or even: “Why don’t you try yoga or meditation?”  

While activity and socializing might be the solution for some, it may not be the solution for everyone, especially in the midst of a particularly dark and difficult time.  Our inability to “be normal” often makes us feel worse about ourselves, adding to the low self-esteem and self-efficacy that can accompany psychological struggles.

When it all just feels like too much, the only place we can begin is with the smallest step that is available to us.  What is the next step that we can take, that feels manageable enough to be within reach?  Perhaps this means, today, we can make the bed, or finally get into the shower. When we reflect upon what action we can reasonably take right now, instead of all the things we are not able to do, we start to feel a sense of accomplishment.  

With gentle self-inquiry and non-judgment, we can then put one foot in front of the other, inching closer and closer to recovery.  

There may be times, however, when the burden of illness is so severe that even small steps feel out of reach.  During these moments, perhaps the most meaningful action we can take is reaching out for help. Maybe we call a friend first and ask them to help find a mental health professional, or we call the primary care doctor and set up an appointment.  

Professional help such as medications and therapy can address changes in brain chemistry that affect our energy and motivation.  With appropriate treatment, pursuing meaningful activities and relationships will start to feel less overwhelming, and more doable.  

The struggle is real, and there is no shame in the struggle.  We do what we can to pull ourselves out of the dark place we find ourselves in.  And when we can no longer pull, we reach out for a hand to hold, one that can guide us through treatment, towards recovery.  One microscopic, meaningful step at a time.

– Monisha Vasa, M.D. | The Collective’s Co-Founder + Clinical Advisor