Self Care Tips to protect your mental health during the holidays
As the holidays season gears up in full swing, you may find that you need self-care tips to protect your mental health to survive the holidays
While the holiday season is supposed to be the happiest season on earth, a time of good cheer and merrymaking, it is also a time when many people struggle with increased mental health problems.
The merriest season on earth is also the most stressful season. Here is why.
The holidays are a time of great demand on our time, energy, and emotions and can leave one exhausted and overwhelmed, especially if they already suffer from mental health problems like anxiety and depression.
Indeed holidays can heighten mental health problems including a phenomenon known as holiday depression syndrome.
In fact, according to Nami, 64 % of people with mental illness report that the holidays make their condition worse.
For one, there is excess stress due to the need to create the merriest holiday for those you love, the need to attend various gatherings, buy lots of people surprising presents, have amazing Christmas decore, Keep your house sparkling, bake the cookies, visit Santa in the mall and take those pictures, send all the people Christmas cards, cook amazing Christmas meal, host a fantastic Christmas party, and smile through it all. Whew! I am exhausted just saying all that.
Yes, it is a lot to ask of anyone.
And It is a lot to ask of someone who already struggles with mental health issues.
So, since the holiday season is here already, let’s try to keep our mental health a priority.
The holidays are for sure a merry time. There is so much excitement in the air. But it can also be a complicated time for many people. And this year especially it is even more complicated as we struggle with the reality of COVID 19 wondering how to navigate social gatherings.
To gather or to social distance? That is the question. To mask or not to mask? That is also the question. Talk of complicated.
Therefore, to keep your stress levels down and minimize feelings of depression, and anxiety this holiday season, here are a few tips to help you maintain your mental health during the holidays.
Keep your expectations realistic
The hype of the holidays can make one build such high expectations of what happy holidays look like. This high expectation can leave us feeling deflated and disappointed when our vision is not realized or comparable.
If you have had happy times during the holidays in the past, wanting to recreate the same again can easily set you up for unhappiness. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try, but you should try to keep the expectations within the current reality in your life.
The trouble is that things may have changed too much. Relationships may have shifted so much that no matter how much you try, the past just cannot be recreated.
You then end up feeling defeated and sad. So you may want to keep your expectations low-key, as well as set boundaries with family as to what you can, or can’t handle.
In the same vein give yourself permission to walk away if situations escalate to protect your peace of mind.
Sometimes we hope every year for a change in others and that can set us up for disappointments.
Instead, accept that the only person you are responsible for is yourself and let others go.
However that said, be generous and don’t hold grudges.
Equally important is managing the expectations others have of you. While you cannot stop them from expecting whatever, you don’t need to feel compelled to do anything just because it is expected of you just to keep the peace, or impress anyone.
Know your family and what you can expect and keep your expectations within those limits.
If you have a somewhat dysfunctional family, it helps to keep your expectations a bit low. Be realistic. Expect that your uncle may drink too much.
Or your brother may start an ugly fight. And be mentally prepared how to act and handle such situations, and that if things start to unravel, well, you are not undone by it.
Acknowledge how you feel and be okay with it
Everyone around you may be all excited about the holidays but you may find you are not. There are many reasons why you may feel sad during the holidays or even unenthusiastic.
As we all know, life changes.
You may have had losses. Maybe you lost a loved one. You may even have had other losses such as a job loss, or a relationship loss, or nay tremendous negative change. Maybe what used to be normal for you during the holidays is no longer. Such losses can make the holidays really hard and sad.
It is normal to feel sad and not in the holiday spirit. These feelings are justified and you don’t have to make excuses.
For some people the holidays are tedious. Not trying to come down on anyone’s joy but the promotion of excess spending, excess cheer, excess lavishness can be too much for some as well.
You may also not have a close family to spend time with and all the lovely promotion of holiday gatherings can be a bit overwhelming and saddening.
If this is how you feel, it is okay.
Acknowledge it and find other activities that will bring you peace of mind.
The power of gratitude has been written about many times and for good reason. So many times we tend to focus on what we don’t have instead of appreciating what we do have. It has been shown that practicing gratitude prompts happiness, contentment, and better mental health.
And the amazing thing about gratitude is that when you start appreciating your blessings you actually attract me. You manifest the things you want by being grateful for what you already have.
So this holiday season is the best time to take notice. Stop and thank God, the universe, or other higher power for bestowing on you the things and people in your life.
Everyone has something they can be grateful for. Find the power of gratitude during the holiday and you will be so much happier.
Besides we tend to forget why we celebrate Christmas. For Christians, it is in remembrance of the biggest sacrifice done for humanity by the death of Jesus Christ. That as Christians is one big reason to be grateful this season.
And those celebrating Kwanza, and Hanuka, gratitude is a big element in those celebrations too and it is good for our souls and mental health to keep that in mind.
Be prepared to deal with and accept imperfections
Ah, don’t we all dream of the perfect holiday season? The perfect holiday dinner, and perfect holiday decor? We want to give the perfect presents and hope to receive perfect presents a well.
All this perfection expectation can take a toll on mental health. Trolling the stores or the internet for hours looking for those perfect gifts is exhausting.
Besides we may be even be tempted to spend money we don’t have. This adds to the stress. There is the excess time and energy spent on trying to create the perfect holiday home. This is great if it is not adding excess stress to your life.
As a woman who works outside the home, coming home and trying to bake cookies, decorate, and go shopping can take a toll on some people.
However, others thrive on this. If you don’t, do what you can. Create a cozy happy holiday feeling without all the excess. Accepting that some things may not be perfect will free you so you are okay and happy even with the imperfect.
Enjoy the simple things like having your family all there enjoying a meal together even if you overcooked the veggies, or the turkey is dry, or some of the gifts are not quite as perfect.
Know your limits
It is important to know how much of the holiday cheer you can handle. For some people especially those who are introverts, holiday gatherings can be too much for their sensitive souls. You may find that you get mentally exhausted after a gathering. Take time to decompress.
Also, decide how many holiday parties you can handle.
How long can you stay in a gathering without feeling suffocated and wanting to run to the safety of alone time?
So try not to overdo it for the sake of being sociable if such gatherings exhaust you mentally.
Accept fewer invitations, and prepare an escape excuse when you really must leave.
Volunteering and helping others
There is some magic that happens when you help others. Volunteering your time and energy is a great way to improve your mental health during the holidays. It feels good to be able to help others in need.
You will feel an increased sense of well-being by helping others. It is good for the soul and the mind. Volunteer at the soup kitchen, and other such programs. Be part of a volunteering program at your church. This is a great way to improve your mental health, and it works.
Practice saying no
Saying no is a way powerful to protect your mental health during the holidays, and any time really.
You can stretch yourself thin if you are not careful during the holidays. You may have invitations coming at you from all over including office parties, various family gatherings, and friends gatherings. You can start to feel stressed.
Just be prepared to say no to some. Prioritize the ones you must attend and let the others go. Being a party butterfly is exhausting and depleting mentally.
Let the ones you decide to take part in be the most meaningful ones and let the others go so as to protect your mental energy and peace of mind.
Have a budget
Stretching your budget thin is bad for your mental health.
The holidays can be a time of excesses if you let it get out of hand. In fact, everywhere we look we see the promotion of such excess and happiness is equated to lavish spending. It is great if you can do it.
But don’t bankrupt yourself trying to get everyone the most expensive and lavish gifts.
No need to max all your credit cards on bought Christmas cheer. We all know that you buy some such gifts especially for kids and within no time they are forgotten and the kids are playing with the empty cardboard box.
Buy simple thoughtful gifts. Buy what you can afford and make the holidays festive in other ways.
Build new fun traditions. Play games with the kids. Go out looking for a Christmas tree, drive around town. Just don’t spend money you don’t have.
Make the month of Christmas fun without excessive spending because come January, the bill man will be coming to collect and then the pain will begin.
Plan your holiday
Protect your mental health by making sure you plan ahead. Plan and prioritize activities.
Planning is important especially if you will be responsible for the cooking and upholding the family traditions. It can easily get exhausting especially for women who tend to do too much.
Plan your shopping for gifts. When will you do it, and how do you aim to buy them, and for whom? How much do you want to spend? Plan the meals ahead of time.
Buy all the ingredients ahead of time so you are not running over and over to the store amidst the masses. That is the worst. Crowds are the worst when you have a sensitive mind.
Cook a few things ahead of time. Keep things as simple as possible but still festive.
We want to do so much to make the holidays amazing but it can take a toll on us.
For women who work outside the home, juggling the home the job and the holidays requires precision planning.
Manage stress the right way
If you find the holiday stress starting to creep up, try and manage it in a healthy way. Learn to stop and rest. Planning will help immensely in avoiding excess stress in the first place.
To reduce stress, make sure you are practicing self-care. Sleep enough. Have routines and safeguard your routines for self and family.
Take time to decompress with fun activities like a fun movie night, a soak in the tub, a call to a friend, listening to music, etc. Just avoid leaning on toxic coping habits such as excess drinking or others such as drugs. Such will only make things worse.
Ah, the need to do as the Jones do! This is the undoing of many and causes so much stress. This need to compare ourselves to our neighbors and friends is bad for the mind and the pocketbook.
Keep your mood and mind happy by not trying to outdo anyone or feeling less because others are doing so much.
With the excess paraded online in social media, we can feel like we are not doing nearly enough or are not festive enough. Stay away from social media and do you.
You know what you can afford. Don’t get influenced by others. Lavish spending doesn’t necessarily make the holidays happier.
Nurture those you love, and find meaning in the real meaning of the holidays. It is a time of love and gratitude. Unfortunately, the world has made it a time of greed powered by capitalism.
Keep your home as festive as possible without overspending. It is possible. And remember not to compare yourself or your family to anyone else.
You don’t need to do better than anyone or as good as anyone else. Celebrating love doesn’t mean excess buying. Comparisons can be stressful and deflating, so just avoid them.
Manage winter blues
Practice self-care to keep winter blues away.
One way to protect your mental health during the holidays is to manage and improve winter blues. Try self-care for winter blues to keep your mind healthy.
The holidays happen when the weather is cold and dark. Overcast skies bring on winter blues for some people.
If you tend to suffer from winter depression, the holidays can feel heavy in spite of the glitz and festivities in the air.
The best thing to do is to do things that bring you joy.
Take extra time to do simple things for yourself that brighten your mood. Slow down a bit if you can. Keep your home bright. Decorate for the holidays.
Bring in some plants to make your space lively.
If you have a fireplace, light a fire and read in front of a beautiful fire while you drink hot chocolate.
Exercise even if it is just walking around the neighborhood.
Make sure you are eating right and sleeping enough too. These simple things will lift the heaviness of winter blues.
Spend time with those you love and who love and support you
Spending the holidays with family is great. But love is what matters.
Try to spend time with those who you feel most comfortable with even if they are not family.
Sometimes one may not have a family to spend the holidays with. But it is the love and joy of the season enjoyed with people who make you happy that matters.
Ask for help
The holidays can be overwhelming and it is okay to ask for help. As for help from family to help with the chores, the shopping cooking, and cleaning.
Also equally important is asking for mental health help if you feel overwhelmed. There are many things that can make the holidays hard.
If you are not feeling the holiday joy, know you are not alone. The joy may have gone out due to various life happenings that disturb mental health around the holidays.
Also, it is important to see a mental health professional if you are struggling with mental health during the holidays. You don’t have to do this alone. Speak to a friend of the family as well. It helps to reach out for help.
Avoid social isolation
If you are feeling the holiday blues you may want to stay home and isolate yourself. And of course this year we also are dealing with the pandemic so you may be afraid to go out party too.
But staying lonely will make your sadness worse.
Reach out to a friend you trust. Of course, it is advisable due to the pandemic that they are vaccinated.
If for some reason you cannot go home or be with loved ones, try to make new friends and new social connections. Volunteering is also another way to find new connections.
And that my friend is my advice and tips on how to practice self-care for your mental health during the holidays.
Now, over to you. How do you feel about the holidays? Do you enjoy them? Do the holidays stress you out? How do you cope? How do you practice self-care and keep yourself sane and happy during the holiday frenzy? I would love to hear from you. Tell me about your holiday mental health practices in the comments below.
And, happy holidays!