The holidays are known as a time of comfort and joy, and often they can be. But for many, the holidays represent a time of significant stress and worry. For those who suffer from mental health conditions, the change in daily routine can pose a seemingly insurmountable challenge, particularly if your mental healthcare provider has left town and you’re left to face your problems alone.
The good news is that many healthcare providers are more than aware of the trouble this can create for their clients, so they will take steps well in advance to ensure that the transition is as easy as possible. The same steps will apply whether it is you or your healthcare provider that is leaving for a trip.
The first step you can take is to ask your health care provider to refer you to another professional for the duration of their vacation. This may not be for a regularly-scheduled appointment, but even just having the number of someone you can call in case of an emergency can be extremely comforting. If you find that you really need someone to talk to (and it’s not an emergency), they may suggest online therapy. There are many online therapy providers that provide on-demand counseling.
Another common practice is for therapists to ask their patients to keep a journal of their day-to-day happenings for the duration of their absence. You should make note of any challenges you face, and how you feel each day without active mental healthcare. Not only will this help your provider to catch up once they return from their vacation, but it is also a good tool for you to be able to process your experiences and organize your thoughts.
A third step is to practice self-care. Self-care can come in many forms, and it should not be thought of as a frivolous and superfluous exercise only for those privileged with ample spare time and a spacious bathtub. Self-care simply means doing what you need to do to remain healthy, both physically and mentally. Whether this means meditation, physical exercise, keeping up good hygiene, or any number of healthy activities and practices, do whatever you need to do to keep yourself on track.
Finally, you should always keep in the back of your mind that your healthcare provider is not, in fact, abandoning you. It can be easy to get very attached to the care that this person provides and the role they fill in your life, but you must remember that they have their own lives. Know that you have their number if you really, truly, need immediate medical help, but try to let them enjoy their vacation so they can be an even better help to you once they return.
The absence of a care provider can also be a very good time to build habits and practices that could allow you to be more self-efficient. Take their vacation as an opportunity to test yourself. If you start to become anxious and feel as though you need their advice, try to think about what they would tell you if they were there (this assumes that the help you need is not an immediate medical emergency and that you will not become a danger to yourself or others in the near future). Use the calming techniques they’ve taught you over your time with them and get yourself where you need to be all on your own.
If you are, in fact, dealing with a true medical emergency, be sure to reach out to the appropriate medical personnel. If you are in immediate danger, such as having strong thoughts of suicide or a severe mental health episode, go immediately to your nearest ER and seek medical attention. If, after you evaluate the situation more clearly, you come to the conclusion that you do not need to go to the hospital, reach out to your area’s crisis intervention team (it is useful to know this number in advance) or call the NAMI HelpLine – 800-950-6264 or firstname.lastname@example.org.