How does one begin to acknowledge our perceived mental wellness as the calendar year ends and the holiday celebrations quickly fill the month of December? This is a daunting task and so, as many millennials do, I started with a simple Google Search, yielding 389 million results for ‘mental health during the holidays’. 389 million. For reference, a Google Search of ‘cute puppies’ yields around 325 million, leaving a difference of 64 million. And though it could be argued that mental health and puppies are inherently linked and maybe some results overlap, for the sake of my argument, mental health around the holidays seems to be on many of our minds.
So why is it that the most ‘Wonderful Time of the Year’ is not quite that for all of us? What warrants this influx of Google results and how can we mitigate it? Undoubtedly, there are many factors that influence our mental health and wellbeing, especially around the hustle of holiday time. So, I invite you to take some time to reflect on your mental health and particularly, how you manage it.
The Coveted Image of Self-Care
As we consider our own tools for managing our mental health, what usually comes to mind? I am picturing images of luxurious candle-lit bubble baths, soothing teas, and nights without worry as I engage in the popular practice of self-care. My Facebook feeds plastered with inspirational quotes about taking time for myself to exercise, prepare a healthy meal, and take part in my favourite hobbies.
Perhaps I am being cynical, but to what degree can I afford to participate in self-care? Who benefits from it, and will I start feeling guilty each evening I avoid my gym, order takeout, and drown out my problems with hours of a Netflix Original docu-series? How about the people we know who don’t have access to a gym, a healthy meal, and space to do their hobbies in the first place? Here I have introduced you to one of my perpetual internal debates – what actually IS self-care… and is it feasible?
The Double-Edged Sword of Self-Care
Since I have chosen to pursue mental health as a career, I have been particularly apprehensive about the term self-care. Coined in the 1950s as a way to promote self-worth (according to my skills in Google Search), self-care has developed into a booming capitalist business, rapidly spreading its way across the mental health sector. I often engage in conversations with folks who ask me: what is the best way to practice self-care? And truly, I don't have an answer for you. Perhaps some are restored by soaking in a tub of bubbles but it’s starting to become apparent to me that this might not be a feasible option for many. I've chatted with individuals who have said to me their most influential act of self-care for their mental health is washing their hair. Or setting boundaries. Or for me, cleaning the smudges off my glasses so that I can properly see what is in front of me because I have forgotten to do so for the last few days and have become so overwhelmed that maybe… it stopped bothering me. Self-care in this light may seem unconventional, but I challenge you to move away from the common approach and begin considering the accessibility of that coveted image of self-care. Who is able to engage in that practice? – Especially around the holidays when there may be several competing factors and influences shifting our level of overall mental wellbeing. Instead, how can we target self-care strategies to better encompass what we as humans need?
Moving forward, I hope to rid of the guilt associated with not having extra time, or energy, or money, or privacy to take a bubble bath tonight. Instead, let us start thinking about taking the time to clean our glasses. If you or someone you know is having difficulty with mental health or mental illness, I encourage you to check out BounceBack and Big White Wall or visit our mental health support page for more resources.