How to Prioritize Mental Health During the Holidays
As the holiday season continues, many people eagerly anticipate spending more time with family and friends, delectable holiday treats, and the joy and excitement of gift-giving. However, this isn’t a universal experience. While it may be the best time of year for some, many others dread the quickly impending shadow of stress, guilt, anxiety, and even depression that often rear their ugly heads this time of year.
So, how do the holidays affect mental health? The holiday season can be a whirlwind of events that force us out of our routines and our comfort zones. In fact, overscheduling family and holiday events—and the guilt that can come with saying no—is a primary cause of holiday stress. Add to that the pressure to create the ideal celebration, buy the perfect gift, and assemble the perfect decorations, as well as the overspending, overeating, and the lack of self-care that often occurs during this time, and you have the recipe for decreased mental health.
On the other side of the coin, people that cannot travel to see their families—especially those that already experience depression or anxiety—can feel socially isolated, envious, and even broken during the holiday season.
Mental Health Tips for the Holidays
So, how can you protect your mental health this holiday season? Make an effort to treat your mental health as you would your physical health: check in on yourself daily, assess your needs, and ensure every move you make betters your mental health situation. Self-reflection is one of the best ways to firm up your mindset for the day and correct your thinking if you find yourself going down a path of negativity. With a positive mindset and inward focus in place, here are several other ways you can work to prioritize your mental health during the holiday season.
Malls are packed, lines are long, and what should be a quick trip to the grocery store can end up becoming a stressful hassle. Fortunately, a little planning can help prevent some of this stress. Be mindful of hours where stores tend to be busier, often the hours between 4 and 7 PM. Before heading to the store, create a detailed list and do your best to stick to it. This helps to avoid any last-minute panic or trips back to pick up items you forgot.
Just as it is beneficial to plan any store outings that can create stress, it can help to map out your holiday commitments. List things like holiday concerts, holiday parties, family get-togethers, charity events, and more on a spreadsheet or calendar. Then, divide these activities into must-do tasks and required events, as well as tasks that could be passed on to someone else and events that are optional for you and your family. If you’re going to an event that will likely have alcohol, bring a non-alcoholic beverage with you so you can feel included.
The holiday season is notorious for its promotion of rich foods and beverages and relaxing with friends and family. However, there are several healthy and delicious recipes that you can enjoy throughout the holiday season. Cooking something new and healthy is rewarding in many ways, and eating healthy can help improve your mental health.
Exercise is another wonderful way to stay healthy. Light exercise can help lift your spirits and provides an effortless way to mix up your day. This could be as simple as going for a short walk or even cranking up your favorite music and dancing around the living room. No matter how you choose to change up your routine, keep water close by to help stay hydrated.
Keep a Routine
Maintaining a routine can be difficult enough without the added pressures of the holiday season. However, having a routine helps to maintain consistency and allows you to take control of your day-to-day life. This holiday season, keep your normal routine as much as you can, inserting any holiday festivities where they fit best. It’s important to keep in mind that you don’t have to change the way you live your life due to the holiday expectations of others. If a morning run is important to your daily routine, don’t miss it just because a relative wants to go gift shopping. Stick to what brings you consistency and joy, and let the other things fall where they may.
Get Plenty of Downtime
It is important to make time for yourself during the holiday season. Slow down when possible, and be mindful of how much you are inserting into your schedule. Make time to catch up on sleep, participate in a hobby you enjoy, or curl up with a good book—whatever helps you relax, unwind, and recharge. Another terrific way to get more downtime is to be mindful of your screen time. While the modern smartphone is a fantastic tool, it can also be a source of anxiety and stress—especially during the holidays.
Social media and other apps can be a source of unhealthy feelings of jealousy, envy, loneliness, or the fear of missing out, while phone calls and text messages can create additional demands on your time. Don’t be afraid to turn your phone off for a few hours—this will allow you to focus on sleep and other restful activities.
Know Your Boundaries
The holidays can be a time of fun and joy, but the season is also full of obligations. Friends, family, and extended family all want your time and energy—and all too quickly, it can become too much. Knowing and keeping boundaries is a major factor in prioritizing mental health. Setting boundaries may mean having to turn down invitations or cancel plans if your schedule becomes too full. Or, it could mean avoiding relationship dynamics that are emotionally draining and stressful.
If your boundaries are breached, it can be helpful to develop effective calming strategies ahead of time. If you need to walk away from a situation to keep yourself positive, do it. Then, take the time to assess why you feel the way you do. For example, it’s easy to feel guilt when your boundaries prevent family harmony, but it is important to understand that harmony can’t come at the cost of your mental health. Be direct and protect yourself from the negativity of others—you can’t change who people are, but you can change how you react.
Set a Budget
Money is often a major source of stress over the holidays. Worse, money issues created during the holiday season can compound themselves over the year to come. Start by setting a strict budget for holiday gifting and celebration spending. If you’re short on cash this holiday season, acknowledge that purchasing an extravagant gift for everyone you live with may simply not be practical.
However, you can still take the time to show how much you care. If you are a crafty person, making time for your craft can be both a stress reliever and a fantastic way to give a hand-crafted gift or holiday decoration. This relieves some of your financial stress while also allowing you to create something unique and made with love. Other cost-effective ways to give include holiday baking, homemade ornaments, donating to charity, and participating in a secret Santa or white elephant gift exchange.
Fresh air can do wonders, even if the weather is on the chillier side. In fact, brisk weather can be perfect for clearing your mind and lowering your stress levels. Take a short walk, build a snowman, or get in a snowball fight with a friend. Whatever gets you outside, embrace it.
Encourage others to engage in outdoor activities with you. And, consider kindling interest in new hobbies that may require spending time outside. Birdwatching, surfing, jogging, and walking are a few activities to consider.
The holidays can come with a lot of expectations. Many people find themselves getting into the mindset that holiday celebrations must go a certain way and certain traditions need to be honored. This need for consistency and tradition can be a major source of stress. Holidays don’t have to be perfect or even look the same every year. Families change and grow, meaning that traditions and rituals can change as well. It is helpful to choose those that matter the most, but you should also be willing to create new traditions and holiday habits.
Acknowledge Your Feelings
No matter the circumstances, it is important to acknowledge your feelings. This can be especially true during the holiday season. Realistically, it is completely normal to feel some sadness or grief during the holiday season. Holiday celebrations may serve as a reminder of traditions or people you have lost. It’s okay to have these feelings, and there is no reason to hide them behind a fake smile.
While it’s important to avoid being overscheduled, staying connected with friends and family is still important during the holidays. When you start to feel down, it is far too easy to shut yourself off from people around you, and isolation can compound pre-existing anxiety and depression. Even if you can’t physically be with those you hold dear, technology can help to bridge the gap—you can meet with loved ones through Zoom, Skype, FaceTime, and several other apps tailored to bring people together.
Even during the holidays, it is easy to feel bombarded with news stories and political fights that can leave a person with the feeling that nothing in the world is positive. To combat this, it is beneficial to celebrate life’s little joys. This shift can help you to achieve a more positive mindset. One way to focus on the little moments that bring you happiness is with a gratitude journal. When you are starting to find yourself feeling negativity, you can flip through your journal to remind yourself of the good that exists. Journaling helps you start each day with a focus on seeing the good, and eventually, finding good things more often will become a natural occurrence.
A great way to prioritize your mental health this holiday season is with mindful breathing or meditation to set the tone for your day. This doesn’t have to be a complex ritual—you can start by taking a few slow, deep breaths before you move on with your day. Developing a calm, relaxed focus can help you clear your mind, ease anxiety and provide a great context for setting your intentions for the day.
Another important part of mindfulness is practicing self-love—the ability to love yourself for who you are. Using positive affirmations can help you see yourself in a positive light and consistently reaffirm that point of view, impacting your sense of self and uplifting your mood. Remind yourself that “I am enough,” “I am happy,” and “I am doing the best I can.” Love yourself and avoid comparing yourself with those around you.
Establish Support Networks
Everyone can benefit from strong support networks and a sense of community, especially during the holiday season. Your support network may be trusted friends or family you know you can turn to when you need someone to listen. Or, you may benefit from formal support groups, whether they meet in person or exist in online communities. If you find yourself experiencing stress, anxiety, or depression beyond the scope of the holidays, you may also want to consider working with a professional qualified to support your mental health. A therapist is just like going to see a trainer for your physical health goals. They will be able to provide insight and guidance others cannot.
Prioritize Your Mental Health
Whether you experience mental health challenges on a regular basis or primarily through the holiday season, you may be asking yourself, “why is Christmas bad for mental health?” It is important to recognize that Christmas and the holiday season aren’t responsible for limiting or reducing your mental health.
If you need someone to talk to, reach out.