How Veterans Can Care for Their Mental Health During the Holidays

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By Scott H. Silverman

For the 19 million Veterans in the United States and their families, the Holidays can be challenging.  Whether you’re celebrating Thanksgiving, New Years, or anything in between. You may deal with increased stress and anxiety as you prepare for family visits, travel plans, and other festivities.

Veterans already have enough challenges during the rest of the year, with much greater instances of addiction and mental health issues than their civilian counterparts. Veterans account for 20% of suicides in the U.S. All of these issues are even more prevalent when the Veteran has faced active combat.

For many Veterans, the stressors that come with the holidays can outweigh the fun and togetherness of family time. For some, the heavy cultural emphasis on excessive spending and family time can be problematic. Many Veterans are struggling financially and others lack the same family supports they see on TV or in the lives of those around them. It’s a time that causes many to feel inadequate, alienated, insecure, or left behind.

Tips to Protect Your Mental Health This Holiday Season

If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the thought of family gatherings or financial stress, there are things you can do to cope with these feelings and make sure they don’t get out of control. These tips can help you stay resilient when caring for your mental health during this busy time of year.

Set Boundaries (and Stick to Them)

When discussing mental health and the holidays, the first step should be to set boundaries for yourself. If something feels too overwhelming or draining, don’t be afraid to say “no.” This could mean turning down a party invitation or simply saying “no but thank you” when someone tries to task you with obligations you don’t have the bandwidth for. We must be kind and gentle with ourselves during this time of year because often, our well-being is put on hold as we take care of others before ourselves.

Set boundaries with family, too. The holidays should not be a time of interrogations, inquisitions, or opportunities to criticize one another. If you have a particular family member who likes to pry or give unsolicited advice, practice a set of solid boundary responses to have ready should the need arise?

Boundary-setting statements include:

  • “Thank you for your concern, but this isn’t the time to discuss this topic.”
  • “I have all of the insight I need on this topic from people in my life but thank you for your concern.”
  • “Now is not a great time for me to get feedback about [my career, my dietary choices, my parenting style, etc.]”

Often family and friends don’t have negative intentions, but this doesn’t stop their prying questions or unsolicited advice from harming our mental health. A simple “no, thank you” will go a long way in preventing further unwanted conversations.


Avoid Draining People and Situations

The holidays are filled with traditions, celebrations, and family time. This can be great for some people’s mental health, but it can also be stressful if you’re not prepared for it. If you notice someone exhausting your energy or stressing you out, limit how much time they get from you this holiday season. If certain people keep bringing up bad memories or talking about things that annoy or upset you, then consciously limit your contact with them during the holidays.

This could be as simple as saying no to invites to gatherings with these particularly stressful people or limiting the time you spend at said gatherings. If you feel your tension rising or anxiety building when you think about seeing a particular person or group, opt out.

Establish a Support System

Talking about your mental health with someone you trust is one of the most effective ways to take care of yourself over the holidays. This can be done in person or over the phone with a friend, family member, or therapist. Reaching out during the busy holidays can seem like an enormous burden to put on another person. Still, odds are the people in your life know your mental health needs extra support during the season, and they’ll understand.

There are also Veterans organizations that have tools and resources for Veterans to get help, talk to others, feel supported, and find activities. One great example is the Wounded Warrior Project.

Be Kind to Yourself

There’s a lot of pressure associated with the holidays. Making sure family (and especially children) feel festive and sufficiently merry can be a draining undertaking, particularly for someone with tenuous mental health. Sometimes it can be hard to take time for yourself when you’re busy caring for others. This holiday season, make sure you do something nice for yourself and not just everybody else.

Think of something that makes you calm and refreshed. It could be as simple as going for daily walks in nature, hiring a professional housecleaner so your home is tidy, or finally buying that special thing you’ve been saving for. Even a small gesture can do wonders.

Have a Plan B

Sometimes, no matter how well we set our boundaries or prepare for stressors, things don’t always go according to plan. Unexpected circumstances can arise, the family can frustrate or disappoint us, or things we thought we prepared for don’t go as expected.

Having a healthy Plan B for the holidays is a great way to avoid disappointment and frustration and can empower you to set better boundaries with family and friends. Knowing you have a fun, engaging activity for yourself and your family will make protecting your peace at family gatherings easier.

Ideas for Plan B holidays can include:

  • Finding a delicious restaurant that is open on holidays
  • Stockpiling fun games and activities to do at home
  • Attending spiritual gatherings
  • Going to a movie or holiday show
Scott H. Silverman

Conclusion

If you feel overwhelmed by the holidays, take a moment to assess your mental and emotional state. Are there ways that you can make your holiday season more positive? Is there someone who can help support you? Don’t be afraid to seek help if needed—your mental health is essential, and you’ll help yourself and your family if you get your needs met this holiday season.


About the Author

Scott H. Silverman is the author of The Opioid Epidemic, the founder and CEO of Confidential Recovery, and has a passion for supporting Veterans. This led him to develop the Veterans Navigation Center, an organization with a mission to support U.S. Veterans’ successful reintegration into society.

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