If you are experiencing a mental health crisis, call the Maine Crisis Hotline at 888-568-1112.
The gift giving season is upon us, even though it looks quite different this year. Perhaps more than usual, we are thinking about our mental health and the ways that we can improve mental health. The holidays provide a unique opportunity to give gifts to yourself and others that are focused on improving mental health.
Keep in mind, though, that there is no one-size-fits-all approach.
“It’s important to think about what actually fits for you and for your lifestyle,” said Kathrine Butler Hepler, psychologist at the University of Maine Counseling Center. “If somebody is technologically not [savvy], I wouldn’t get them a subscription to an app. They wouldn’t use it and I know that.”
Katharine Appleyard at Appleyard Counseling in Bangor also said to take all recommendations with a grain of salt.
“None of these suggestions are a substitute for working with a trained professional when you are struggling,” Appleyard said.
Here are some gifts you can give — or give yourself — that can benefit mental health.
Subscriptions can take many forms, from entertainment platform subscriptions like Spotify, Netflix or Hulu, to subscription boxes that help break the monotony of isolated days.
“I’ve seen several people subscribe to travel boxes that bring cultural experiences to your mailbox,” Appleyard said.
Crafts & games
Finding a creative outlet is a great way to reduce stress. Give your loved ones — or yourself — the gift of art supplies like watercolors, scrapbooking supplies and clay; a fly tying kit; new puzzles and games or other activities that they can enjoy indoors.
“Sculpey is awesome,” Hepler said. “You can make just about anything out of it. Doing something that is satisfying [and] tactile pulls your creative side and gets you out of your head.”
You can also creatively combine these material items with the gift of quality time.
“My daughter moved to Virginia [so] I’m getting two identical puzzles and we’re going to work [on] that together as a Christmas thing,” Hepler said.
Clinically-tested, medical-grade lamps for treating seasonal affective disorder, also known as SAD lamps, are a great gift for Mainers struggling to get through the winter.
“Those are amazing and they’re wicked cheap and you can get good quality ones in lots of places,” Hepler said. “Add 20 to 40 minutes a day at the beginning of your day of bathing your eyes in the light even if it’s when you’re brushing your teeth or reading the morning news on your phone.”
Keep in mind, though, that SAD lamps aren’t regulated by the Food and Drug Administration, so you have to be careful when shopping. Look for one with a large light surface, at least 12 inches by 18 inches. It should have a brightness level of 10,000 lux, a viewing angle that allows it to be positioned above your eyes at a slight downward angle and a built-in UV filter (look out for “UV-Free” labels).
Weighted blankets are throws that are filled with plastic pellets to provide similar benefits to deep pressure therapy at home. These blankets have shown positive results for several conditions, from autism to anxiety to insomnia.
Appleyard said that a weighted blanket would make a great gift for self-care, especially if you are looking to create a space for yourself to rest and relax this winter. The blankets vary in size, but most experts recommend choosing one that’s roughly 10 percent of your body weight.
Online class platform memberships like SkillShare or Masterclass can make great gifts. Likewise, so can an online fitness or yoga class subscription like Down Dog, as physical activity is an important element to maintaining mental health.
“Gifts of experience that promote wellbeing may include massage or Float207 gift certificates, yoga class passes or art classes,” Appleyard said. “These gifts also support our local businesses and professionals.”
If you haven’t already, perhaps this is the year that you give yourself the gift of therapy, especially if your mental health is suffering at this stage of the pandemic. Finding mental health help during the pandemic is not difficult if you know where to look.
“There’s also something called the Open Path Collective,” Helper said. “They do a sliding scale. A lot of providers that are part of that group [and] take on a number of sliding scale people so they are not shut out from the opportunity based on insurance or affordability.”
According to the University of Rochester Medical Center, journaling can help manage anxiety, reduce stress and cope with depression. Journaling also helps you prioritize problems, fears, and concerns; track day-to-day mental health patterns and triggers; and provides you an opportunity for positive self “talk” (albeit, on the written page).
“If you have kids that are homeschooling or hybrid schooling, these journals can encourage us to slow down a little bit,” Hepler said. “They make journals for parents, journals for busy people [and] gratitude journals are amazing.”
Gratitude journals especially have been shown to improve mental health. A 2018 study from the University of California at Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center showed that keeping a gratitude journal “can increase people’s happiness and overall positive mood.”
Scent is powerfully tied to our emotions. Purchasing a candle, essential oil diffuser or other scented home item in a naturally relaxing scent or even one that is meaningful — perhaps your mom always burned palo santo, or vanilla cookies remind your friend of grandma’s house — is a great gift for self-care.
If you can’t think of a specific scent, Hepler said lavender is always a good bet, and recommended lavender bath salts, which she said she purchases for her mother every Christmas.
“Lavender is known for being calming,” she said. “It’s incredible self-care to go, I’m going to take even just 20 minutes and soak in a hot bath that smells good and makes my body feel good.’”
Cold weather gear
Gifting cold weather clothing is a great way to encourage spending time outdoors in the winter, which can be a great perk-me-up.
“Every single year, I ask for wool socks,” Helper said. “A lot of time folks benefit from spending time in nature. That can be just a really powerful healing moment when you’ve been trapped in your isolated world.”
Aside from warm layers, Appleyard said you may also want to consider winter sport equipment or permits like ice skates, an ice fishing permit, snowshoes or skis.
Volunteer & donate
Volunteering your time or donating your money to people in need is not only a great gift for those who are struggling, but it is also a great gift to yourself.
“If you’re in a financial position to provide relief through a donation to another organization or to [a] family that you know of personally, being a part of the solution can provide a lot of positive emotional experience for yourself,” Helper said.
The gifts do not have to be financial, though. Consider volunteering as a gift to yourself if you can find opportunities.
“There’s not as much in-person volunteering, but find what volunteering is available [like] delivering holiday meals to families in need. [or] cooking something for a group, whether it’s homeless or families in need,” Helper said. [See] what’s in your community and what’s available to you.”
Appleyard said that part of giving during the holidays is figuring out what “caring” looks like for you, whether it is a donation to an organization in line with your values, knitting hats or sewing face coverings for people in need, or shopping for items needed at the Shaw House or the Humane Society.
In fact, giving, whether it is a donation or one of these other gifts to someone you care about or to yourself, is a great way to make yourself feel good during the holidays this year.