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A State of Mind: Keep mental health in mind this Valentine’s Day
Is there any holiday as polarizing as the day coming up on Feb. 14? Surely, there are those for whom Valentine’s Day evokes feelings of love and romance. For others, the winged messenger carrying his bow and arrow inspires dread and annoyance. Regardless of that divide, Valentine’s Day is clearly big business across the country, with Americans expected to spend around $26 billion this year celebrating the occasion.
But like most things that have infiltrated our culture to such an extent, there are considerations to be made as it comes to our mental health. On one hand, Valentine’s Day offers a structured opportunity to remind us to make a concerted effort to express our love and appreciation for our loved ones. On the other, it can intensify feelings of stress, anxiety and depression.
For several weeks leading to the big day, we are flooded with advertisements and messages convincing us to buy cards, candy, flowers and jewelry. We’re bombarded on social media with the most idealistic, and perhaps unrealistic, versions of extravagant dinners and romantic gestures. We see over-the-top displays from celebrities and grand proposals and professions of love in movies.
The truth, however, is that love, commitment and companionship is not rooted in a box of chocolates or a piece of jewelry, and it isn’t dependent on the amount of money we spend on a gift. The pictures and visions we see on social media are, at best, carefully curated moments in time meant to portray a specifically crafted image and, at worst, entirely fabricated in accordance with some social expectation that trap us in a cycle of comparing and feeling unnecessarily inadequate. And the things we see on television and in movies are intentionally excessive for the sake of entertainment.
Valentine’s Day for singles can bring other challenges, such as handling countless questions from family or friends about relationship status, facing the societal pressures to be coupled or dealing with the media-driven narrative that being single is analogous to being alone. Perhaps the day does in fact reinforce feelings of loneliness or exacerbate feelings of loss for those who are single or have lost significant others in some capacity.
All told, it’s no wonder Valentine’s Day has the potential to adversely affect mental health. But there are things we can all do to care for our well-being throughout the day. Specifically for those in relationships, in can be helpful to focus on the meaning of the occasion rather than the expectations being pushed from multiple angles. That might mean simply taking the time to write a letter to your partner, cook dinner together or simply make an effort to spend quality time together rather than focusing on extravagant gifts or posting grand displays on social media.
For those not celebrating with a partner, ignoring the outside pressures can be difficult, but it might be helpful to use the occasion as an opportunity to recommit to practicing self-care. Perhaps go for a walk, write in a journal, take a painting or yoga class or treat yourself to a special dinner. There are also no rules that Valentine’s Day can only be celebrated with a romantic partner. It can be fulfilling to use the day to connect with family, friends or other special people in your life.
Ultimately, Valentine’s Day can be a special time of year, reminding us of the beautiful power of love and the redeeming strength in celebrating our commitments to one another. At the same time, it is a day as important as any other to focus on caring for oneself and prioritizing mental health and well-being.
Bryan Busch is a licensed mental health counselor in Cedar Rapids. He also works at Folience, the parent company of The Gazette. He can be reached at email@example.com.