Giving the gift of mental health, wellness

December 22, 2020

Monitoring mobile phone usage for both children and adults will help discourage bingeing social media, entertainment and other distractions during the Christmas holidays and the pandemic. (Photo by Katerina Holmes)

HOUSTON — No matter how you look at it, this Christmas season will feel different.

And even though Advent is a liturgical season set aside especially for prayer and reflection in anticipation of the coming of the birth of Christ and the Christmas season, a pandemic swiftly threw any sense of tradition by the wayside, which was also witnessed during Lent and the Easter season. But what if this Christmas, the best gift could be mental health and wellness to ourselves and other loved ones in our lives?

Especially during the holiday season, and with 2021 around the corner, mental health advocates are encouraging the public to be mindful of their mental health when the holiday blues might bubble up as Christmas draws near.

“If we’re not mindful, we might develop a mental illness that may be more difficult to handle in the future,” said Ivan Navarro, a counselor at the Counseling and Behavioral Health Center at Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston.

“We do need to pay a lot of attention to our feelings, our emotions, our thoughts, and just in general, our mental condition so that those negative situations don’t get worse,” he said.

The Christmas holidays are supposed to be times of prayer, joy, and celebration, and having a mental health condition will disrupt the purpose of the holidays, he said. And as families choose to be more mindful of pandemic guidelines, more traditions change. Gatherings might look smaller, with pandemic restrictions changing general access to Mass at every parish.

But still, the holidays can be a time for new traditions and different ways to celebrate the coming of the Lord, said Navarro.

Just like we care for our soul spiritually by receiving the Sacraments, caring for our mental health is just as important as exercise is for our bodies, Navarro said. When one is neglected, it can become unhealthy and unbalanced.

The holidays are a natural time for people to feel upset or unwell, as family relationships or obligations might cause stress and discomfort, prompting what experts call the holiday blues.

The added worldwide pandemic and its related stressors, Navarro said something temporary like the holiday blues could develop into something more serious like a mental health illness or disorder.

As the pandemic wore on, Navarro saw more families seek professional counseling because they had been spending so much time together at home, causing many issues to arise.

Connecting with others

“Anybody can develop any mental health disorder. The only requirement for developing a mental health disorder is being human,” he said.

Naturally, people will long for better times, but dwelling too much on the past and the future will prompt pandemic fatigue symptoms, like being tired of following guidelines and restrictions.

“All human beings are vulnerable to a mental health disorder or a mental illness.” With the holidays, people might struggle with nostalgia, thinking about how things use to be or of times spent with people who may have died.

He suggested focusing on the present and working to recognize these feelings, then work to overcome them. During the holidays, it’s easy to distract from these emotions and binge on social media or entertainment on TVs, tablets and phones, but embracing these feelings for a time will help in the future.

“Connecting with others who are trustworthy is always a great way to overcome any sadness, especially when ... connected by our faith,” Navarro said. “Find creative ways to be generous. Charity and gratefulness are great sources of mental health and stability.”

He suggested picking up meals for friends and family who might need help, or video calling loved ones who may be alone during the holidays.

“We should not lose the sense of community that our Catholic faith and churches provide us,” he said.

Focusing on God’s promises

Spirituality is also key to staying healthy, receiving the Sacraments or watching Mass if unable to attend in person and praying for Spiritual Communion, Navarro said.

“It is not a coincidence that this month of December, we have the holiday of Christmas when we remember the birth of Christ,” Navarro said. “For millions of people, that is a significant part of their spirituality, and living that spirituality of Christmas brings answers to our problems. There is hope that more is coming. And we can always look forward to more of God’s love, to God’s promises.”

He stressed focusing on the Holy Family to be a guide on how to live during the pandemic.

“We should especially focus on keeping our eyes fixed on the figures of the Blessed Virgin Mary and St. Joseph, who went through so many tribulations, so many problems during the birth of Christ,” he said.

“They always hoped, they always kept looking, and they managed to do God’s will — you never go wrong when you do God’s will. And that is a good example for all of us to follow. In our spirituality, we find meaning; we find answers that can potentially become the solution to our mental health issues. It is all connected.”

Getting professional help

Feeling anxious or stressed?

Call the Counseling and Behavioral Health Center at Catholic Charities to speak to a counselor at 713-874-6590.

Visit to learn more and to watch a series of videos on mental health tips during the pandemic. †

5 Easy Ways to Beat the Blues

The holidays can easily bring around the good and the bad. Here are a few simple ways to help beat the holiday blues this winter.

Write a letter
When was the last time you sent a handwritten letter to a friend? It’s never too late to send a Christmas card, the Christmas season continues well after Dec. 25!

Bake a favorite recipe
Few things are as comforting as tucking into a delicious cookie with a warm cup of coffee or tea. Bake a favorite family recipe, or find a new one online and safely share with your friends, family and neighbors.

Break out a puzzle
Take out the puzzles from under the coffee table or the back of that closet and gather the family to see how fast you can build the picture, or take up a board game.

Limiting alcohol
Alcohol can alter any mood, good or bad, so after enjoying an adult beverage, switch to a nice cup of tea or sparkling water and know you’ll feel better the next day!

Exercise often
Put on some headphones (or don’t!) and go for a brisk walk with family. See Christmas lights, watch for birds and wake up early for a crisp sunrise or a glowing sunset.