Mental Health and the Holidays

The holiday season is seen as “the most wonderful time of the year.” For some people, however, the season can be the opposite of jolly and cheerful. Dealing with stress from work, pressure to buy gifts and plan outings, strained family relationships, or general winter blues can have a huge effect on your overall mood during the holiday season. It’s completely normal to not feel like you’re in the typical holiday spirit. The American Psychological Association reported that 38% of people surveyed experienced their stress levels increase during the holidays. For those who have existing mental health conditions, the National Alliance on Mental Illness found that 64% of people with mental illness reported that the holidays make their conditions worse. Having guidance in navigating these feelings can be helpful at this time. Here are a few tips that can help you with maintaining your mental health during the holidays.

Tip #1: Acknowledge how you feel

It can be hard to deal with your emotions surrounding the holidays if everyone around you doesn’t feel the same way. Feeling pressured to appear cheerful and enthusiastic when you feel the opposite of that can lead to you feeling a lot worse. Instead of shaming yourself for your feelings, acknowledge your emotions and allow yourself to feel through them. Reflect on why you may be feeling these emotions during this time. Remember you are not alone in feeling this way and it’s okay to release the idea of how the holidays should be. If you do feel alone, make time to reach out to those who are loving and supportive to help ease your feelings.

Tip #2: Create time for yourself

During the holidays, you can feel like you must stretch yourself in many directions. Between finishing up deadlines for work, finding time to buy presents, taking care of your family, or attending gatherings with loved ones, you may feel like there’s little time to take care of yourself. Prioritizing yourself and practicing self-care is important to not only improve your overall well-being, but it also allows you to show up better for those around you. Planning time ahead to take care of your needs such as getting some sun, exercising, cleaning, or getting quality sleep is necessary during the holiday season. It’s also important to stick with your routine and habits you’ve created as it may be easy to go against them during this time.

Tip #3: Speak your boundaries

It’s important to set clear and firm boundaries with others. You may feel pressure to attend all events that you’re invited to or take on more responsibilities to make others happy. However, in the long run, this is only affecting your overall mental health and well-being. Know that it’s okay to set boundaries with your time, noting which gatherings you will and will be attending. You can also let your loved ones know that you can still make it, but you’ll only be there for a certain amount of time. This way, you’re still finding the time to show up for those you love but honoring your boundaries as well. Set boundaries at events surrounding what you feel comfortable discussing. If it’s something personal to you or topics that make you uncomfortable, it’s good to let others know or you can choose to leave the event when you’re ready.

Tip #4: Practice gratitude

A good way to approach this time of year is by keeping an open mind with all that could happen during the season. Instead of preparing for the worst, try to focus on the many positive things that may occur during the holidays. Gratitude has been shown to have positive effects over one’s mental well-being, showing lower risk of stress and building resilience to depression, anxiety, etc. Taking the time to reflect on the year and giving thanks to all the people or events that have had a positive impact on your life could be effective during the holidays. Taking the time to show your gratitude for others is also a great way to improve interpersonal connections as well.

Tip #5: Control what you can

The holidays can be stressful when you’re faced with many situations that are out of your control. Having to think about buying gifts, time for meeting with family and friends, traveling, cooking, etc. on top of daily obligations can result in more anxiety than normal. Taking the time to identify all the things you can control instead of what you can’t is important for maintaining your mental health at this time. Maybe you could create a budget of the amount of money you plan on spending on gifts or limiting social events when you know you need a break. Focus your attention on your thoughts and actions rather than external forces that are out of your control.

The holidays can be a stressful time, but you don’t have to deal with it alone. Give some of these tips a try to see if they help with maintaining your mental health during the holiday season!

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