Guest Blog: The Gift of Listening


James 1-19 - 2

I invited Douglas’ wife, who is a peer support specialist, to share with you some things she has mentioned to me that can help loved ones who deal with mental illness navigate the holiday season. 

As the holiday season goes into full swing, we are aware of what comes with our celebrations: lots of activities, generous dessert tables and endless gatherings. It is, indeed, a time to be surrounded by family and friends. Most of us greet this time of the year with open arms and excitement; we look forward to spending extra time celebrating with those closest to us.

However, as we embrace this time of the year, there are those who see the holidays with a much different outlook. Your loved ones living with mental health conditions may view the holiday season as a gauntlet of triggers and with overall dread. For many, interactions with particular family members or having to be on point in large group settings can create feelings of anxiety and need for isolation.

This holiday season doesn’t need to be something that lurks above your loved one’s head or that cripples them with fear and dread. It can be a time of joy and celebration with the ones they love. But it takes some thinking ahead, planning and, most of all, listening.

Put yourself in your loved ones’ shoes for a moment and take the time this holiday season to stop and really listen to those who would normally be silent.

For example, consider the typical conversations around the table. Instead of asking those grilling life questions about what society believes to bring people success in this world, ask more open-ended questions to allow your loved ones to express themselves and share their interests. As family members and friends we enjoy getting to know the people around us and their journey in life, but consider how to do this while being sensitive to their feelings. By listening we can empower those who normally feel anxious about being asked about employment, relationships and their conditions, demonstrating that they don’t need to feel ashamed about where they are in life. This approach will help encourage and convey a feeling of support from their family and friends.

I urge you this holiday season to take a moment in the busyness of preparations with your family and friends to make a pledge to stop and listen to those in your life. By offering the gift of listening you will speak the most important message you can share: that your loved one is not alone and that you care about their individual success on their road of recovery.

P.S. Here are some other ways to help your loved ones through the holidays:

    • As much as possible, help maintain usual daily routines.
    • Encourage attention to regular healthy habits of sufficient sleep, nutritious meals and adequate exercise.
    • Discuss with your loved one the possibility of talking with their doctor about medication adjustments through the holidays.
    • Don’t insist they participate in activities that they feel are stressful for them. If they do choose to join in festivities, work out with them “escape plans” if they need to leave family gatherings early or abruptly.
    • Encourage them to help choose the guest list for your gatherings and respect their requests to not include specific people.

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