The holidays tend to be a season of stress for most of us; a time when there’s more to do, pressure to buy beyond our means, obligations to spend time with relatives who we’d rather not see, and expectations that we’ll do it all with ease. And on top of that, you may have the added stress of holiday travel, grief over loved ones no longer with you, and dark, gloomy weather that keeps you cooped up inside.
With all these challenges, it’s no wonder that our mental health can take a hit during the holidays. However, by making a few reasonable changes, you can preserve your emotional well-being during this stressful time of year.
8 tips to stay mentally healthy during the holidays
- Maintain your routine. A routine makes it easier to continue healthy habits such as going to bed on time, exercising, and taking medications. And with all of the added holiday events, changes to work and school schedules, traveling, and having guests, it’s easy for your routine to go right out the window. To be realistic, it may not be possible to maintain your entire routine, but you will probably find it helpful to ground yourself with one or two key elements of your healthy routine. This could be figuring out how to maintain an exercise regime while on vacation or prioritizing your therapy appointments during December instead of letting them slide when you get busy. For more information on how routines improve mental health, read this article:
- Don’t be afraid to say “no”. If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know that I emphasize the importance of boundaries a lot – and that’s because they really make a difference. You can say “no” to things you’re not interested in doing and don’t have the time, energy, or money to do. It does take practice to get comfortable saying “no”, but most people are understanding of your limits, especially when you deliver them in a direct and kind manner. For more information about setting boundaries, read these articles:
- Find ways to deal with loneliness. Loneliness is magnified during the holidays if you don’t have family or friends to spend them with or you’re missing a loved one due to death or distance. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution for loneliness, but there are some ways you can ease the pain. For some, it may be to volunteer or find ways to get involved in the community, and for others, it might be creating new rituals that help you enjoy the solitude and give you opportunities for reflection and creative pursuits. For more information, read these articles:
- Spend time doing holiday-related activities that bring you happiness. We can all agree that many aspects of the holidays are stressful, but there are also many holiday traditions and activities that make us feel good. Spend a few minutes thinking about what you enjoy most about the holidays. How can you incorporate more of those activities into your schedule? (Sometimes it means saying no to the activities that drain you!)
Here are a few ideas to consider:
- Bake – perhaps you have some special holiday recipes that you only make this time of year. (Find out more about the mental health benefits of baking here.)
- Decorate – some people get a big happiness boost from putting up an elaborate light display, while others enjoy hanging all the ornaments their kids made through the years. (Read more about the mental health benefits of decorating here.)
- Attend religious services. (Learn more about the mental health benefits of religion and spirituality here.)
- Volunteer, donate toys or food, or adopt a family in need. (Learn more about the benefits of volunteering here.)
- Reminisce – thinking about positive holiday memories, recounting childhood memories with your siblings, or looking through photo albums can promote happiness. (Read more about the psychological benefits of reminiscing here and here.)
- Enjoy holiday music, go to a concert, sing meaningful hymns or uplifting songs. (Read more about the psychological benefits of listening to music here.)
- All things in moderation. Our physical health certainly impacts our mental health, so we need to be thoughtful about how we treat our bodies. It’s easy to overindulge in sugary treats, alcohol, and late nights during the holiday season, but doing so can leave us exhausted, irritable, and guilt-ridden. Try to enjoy things in moderation to stay feeling your best.
- Connect with supportive people. Many people feel obligated to spend time with negative or unsupportive family members during the holidays. If you can, try to minimize your time with difficult or toxic people and spend time with positive people to help buffer the negative impact. Who are the supportive people in your life? When will you make time to spend with these supportive people? Face-to-face time may be ideal, but phone calls and texts work, too. To learn more about dealing with negative people, read these articles:
- Let go of perfection. The holidays are filled with expectations – the expectations we have of others and ourselves. Perhaps you’re chasing your tail trying to find the perfect gift for your mother or trying to decorate your house or bake cookies that look like the photos you saw on Instagram. Or perhaps you’re expecting your children to behave impeccably at your in-law’s holiday dinner. It would certainly be lovely if we could make the holidays turn out perfectly, but usually, these are wishes built on unrealistic expectations. When we expect perfection from ourselves and others, we’re bound to be disappointed. Instead, we can set more realistic expectations and extend compassion to ourselves and others when we make mistakes. When we do this, we all end up happier and we can keep what really matters about the holidays in perspective. If you’d like more strategies for letting go of perfection, read the following articles:
- Appreciate the little things. It’s easy to take the positives in our lives for granted; we all have lots to be thankful for if we train ourselves to look for what we have rather than what’s lacking. And creating a daily gratitude practice is an excellent way to stay mentally and physically healthy. A simple way to do this is to identify three things you’re grateful for each day – perhaps doing it right before bed or first thing in the morning. If you’d like to know more about the benefits of gratitude and how to create a practice, take a look at these articles:
Despite all the extra commitments and stressors this time of year, you can stay mentally healthy. Often it just takes a few small changes and freeing ourselves from the “shoulds” that trap us in obligations, traditions, and expectations that don’t work for us.
I hope these ideas will help you enjoy a peaceful holiday season that supports your health and well-being.
©2018 Sharon Martin, LCSW. All rights reserved.
Photo by Michael Dam on Unsplash.com.