Happy Holidays

The Holidays and Mental Health

The months of November and December can be a combination of both joy and stress.  Despite the images of holiday perfection portrayed in commercials, social media posts, and the myriad of holiday movies, the reality is that the holidays can be a bit messy, as people tend to unwittingly put unrealistic expectations on themselves and their loved ones.  For some, the holiday season can end up being the most stressful two months of the entire year! The good news is that it doesn’t have to be a drain on your mental health.  There are some simple things you can do to make the holiday season more manageable, no matter what holiday you celebrate. 

Be Realistic with Yourself

  • Money – Spending money beyond your means in pursuit of the “perfect” holiday only serves to cause you stress in January when those credit card bills come due. Be mindful of getting caught up in the “sales” the stores advertise over the season, as the reality is that oftentimes the prices have been inflated to give the illusion of a good deal.  Decide early in the season what your budget is for each person you are buying for, and stick to it.  You’ll be in a much better place both financially and mentally if you take steps to not overspend.
  • Time – The demands on our time during the holiday season can end up being one of the biggest mental drains. Between parties, school activities, family, shopping, and events, you may start to feel that there just aren’t enough hours in the day.  One way to counteract this is to make a physical list of all of your upcoming holiday engagements and separate it into categories, such as “required” and “optional.”  You are not required to say yes to every ugly sweater party, favorite things gift exchange, or holiday lights show.  Pick those that mean the most to you and focus your priorities on those.  Then you can think about adding some of the other activities.  Remember it’s ok to say no if that is what is best for you. 
  • Family – The holidays spark so many deep emotions amongst family members. It could be family “drama” from past holiday seasons, grief over a lost loved one, etc. Even in the best of situations, family dynamics can be quite complicated, and the holidays can magnify any unresolved conflict.  Meeting with a licensed therapist before you see family members may be a great time to discuss strategies on how best to approach the situation, which can lead to a more positive holiday experience overall. 

Take Care of YOU

It sounds basic, but this is NOT the time to skip your normal health routines, both physical and mental. 

  • Exercise – Any type of physical activity can be a great stress reliever and contribute to maintaining good mental health. Try and find even short windows of time to get some physical activity in your schedule.  If your normal routine is shaken up by holiday obligations, remember to go easy on yourself and remember that this is only a short season; soon enough you will be back to your normal routine!
  • Diet – Name a holiday, and you can find a list of rich foods that have become staples of the holidays. The key here is moderation; depriving yourself or mentally punishing yourself for an indulgent meal or two is neither healthy nor effective in the long run.  Try and make good meal choices most of the time, as that will help balance things out. 
  • Sleep – Getting a regular amount of sleep during this season is important to maintain both your physical and mental health. Pushing yourself to the brink of exhaustion for the sake of trying to create the “perfect” holiday will only leave you physically and mentally vulnerable.  Making an effort at managing your time during your waking hours will help you to be able to wind down and relax at the end of the day when it’s time to sleep. 
  • Mindfulness – Being aware of how you are feeling inside this time of year is just as important as taking care of your physical health. We often rush from place to place and don’t even recognize how stressed we are inside.  Take a moment (or a few) to stop and assess how and what you are feeling.  If you begin to feel tense, taking slow, deliberate breaths is an effective form of meditation that can lower blood pressure and heart rate and bring you back into a state of balance.  Practicing basic yoga can also serve to benefit you physically and mentally. 

It’s OK to NOT be OK

The stress and emotions of the holidays can heighten depression and anxiety levels.  If you find yourself in that place, please remember that it is ok to seek help.  It is ok to admit that this time of year is not your favorite, for whatever reason.  And it is ok to take time for you to get yourself back to a place of balance, both mentally and physically.  It’s the best gift you can give yourself this holiday season!

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