With the holidays swiftly approaching, many dream of winter wonderlands, parties with gingerbread houses and eggnog, and the magic that comes from gift-giving.

For others, the holiday season brings into focus mental health struggles that are only exacerbated by large group festivities, financial stressors, and a holiday spirit that can sometimes feel imposed and hokey.

No one person handles the holidays exactly the same. For every Buddy the Elf, there is a Grinch, a Scrooge, and a Heat Miser. However, those experiencing mental health issues might find themselves prone to spikes in their depression and anxiety.

Hallmark movies may be able to help.

The Hallmark of the Hallmark Channel 

The word hallmark harkens back to marks stamped on pieces of gold to guarantee their purity. Today, the popular network is known for its feel-good and contemporary holiday films. Hallmark dedicates itself to the holiday season and life’s special moments. In recent years, their Countdown to Christmas has exploded in popularity and entered the zeitgeist. Can you really talk about holiday movies without mentioning the Hallmark channel?

“Hallmark movies are all about love, empathy, compassion, and kindness,” says Dr. Cree Scott, a licensed clinical psychologist who is also the founder and CEO of Serenity Psy Consulting.

An avid fan of Hallmark movies herself, Dr. Scott has drawn a connection between holiday-centric films and mental health. “When you watch an uplifting movie, especially when they include acts of kindness, it releases cortisol — the stress hormone — in the brain, followed by dopamine, which produces feelings of pleasure,” she explains.

The joy one experiences when watching a Hallmark movie can therefore improve your mood, mindset, and reduce stress. New releases like A Christmas Cookie Catastrophe and A Fabled Holiday could be a trick to managing mental health issues this holiday season.

According to Dr. Scott, “witnessing acts of kindness produces oxytocin, occasionally referred to as the love hormone, which aids in lowering blood pressure and improving overall heart health.”

Understanding Mental Health in America 

One in five American adults experiences mental health issues, a percentage that amounts to 52.9 million people. While mental health affects people from all walks of life, it is increasingly common in the lesbian, gay, and bisexual population, affecting 47.4% of that community.

Those living with mental illness are at higher risk of cardiovascular and metabolic diseases. In fact, they’re nearly twice as likely to develop these conditions, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Additionally, they are more likely to experience substance use disorder, suicide, and unemployment.

Despite its emphasis on cheer, the holiday season can actually aggravate these numbers.

The American Psychological Association released a report revealing that 38% of the population surveyed said that the holidays brought about a spike in their stress levels. Some reasons for this increase include financial pressure, gifts, and family gatherings.

Similarly, the National Alliance on Mental Illness found that 64% of people living with mental illness reported a worsening of their conditions during the Christmas season.

If you or someone you know needs help with mental health, please contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741, call the National Alliance on Mental Illness helpline at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264), or visit the National Institute of Mental Health website.

Predictability Might Be A Good Thing

If the experts are right, more people should be watching Hallmark movies in addition to traditional health treatments and meditation. But what is it about a Hallmark movie that makes it so effective?

We talked to a self-proclaimed Hallmark movie expert to get her perspective on what’s so special about these movies. “In a scary world, I find comfort in the kind-hearted community members of different ages and races, devoted best friends, and men who don’t break your heart,” says Jenny Forwark, who runs the Hallmark Jenny fan blog.

The movies follow a similar pattern, presenting an almost utopian presentation of what life could look like if we all just came together. “Doing the right thing is important in Hallmark movies,” explains Forwark. She also points to their patterns and predictability as positive attributes of these films.

But can predictability really be a good thing? Ieva Kubiliute, a wellness psychologist, says yes.

“Predictably is cognitively rewarding because the human brain loves to draw patterns,” she says. Understanding the patterns of the films can offer a sense of comfort.

Feel Good Movies For Feel Good Lives

According to Ellie Borden, a psychotherapist and author, the soothing environment of Hallmark movies can produce positive emotions.

Borden describes how Hallmark movies can “create an escape for women in the same way that many books do, and they emphasize positive themes and emotions while sticking to common plots to encase this atmosphere which reduces stress.” She believes that the film’s use of narration, music, and visuals can produce “high-intensity positive emotions,” which can “make them difficult to resist.”

20% of Americans experience some form of mental health issue, which only increases during the holidays. While Hallmark movies are no substitute for serious medical care, these feel-good films could be one positive tool to help manage mental health issues, arriving at a time when so many Americans are struggling.

This article was originally produced by MotherhoodLifeBalance

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