Taking Care of Your Mental Health During the Holidays

In a recent survey, the American Psychological Association found that 38% of people experienced increased stress during the holidays. Survey takers cited financial worry, busyness, and extended family time as contributors to this stress. Too much stress can lead to anxiety, depression, substance misuse, and even physical illness.

Read on to discover how you can manage any increased stress to avoid strain on your mental or physical health.

There are many reasons why the holidays can become a difficult time for people. Have you experienced a recent loss? The holidays can increase feelings of grief, especially if you can no longer spend them with loved ones you’re missing. Are you feeling alone or isolated? The anticipation of being surrounded by family or in a romantic relationship can exacerbate these feelings.

Maybe you feel excluded if your spiritual traditions are not the typical ones celebrated at this time of year. Or perhaps the financial strain of holiday travel and gift-giving is overwhelming you. Whatever the reason is, increased stress around the holidays is normal and there are steps you can take to effectively manage the stress.

Make this year different by incorporating the following steps.

Find connection

It is unfortunate how common the feelings of holiday stress are. However, the upside of this is that there are others who feel similarly to you. This year, try being honest with your friends and family about your stress instead of pressuring yourself to be cheery or in the holiday spirit around others. You may find that your social supports have been experiencing this stress as well.

Relating to others helps remove the feelings of shame around our stress. When we feel like we are the only ones struggling, it is easy to have thoughts like “What’s wrong with me?” or “Why can’t I just enjoy this like everyone else?” Knowing that others are having a similar experience will help you realize that there is nothing to be ashamed of and that holiday stress is normal. It may also help others understand how to best support you during this time.

Release unrealistic expectations

Hallmark movies, childhood memories, and holiday music can create a fantasy image in our minds of what this time of year should be like. Many people imagine drinking hot coco, laughing with family, playing in the snow, and opening presents when they look forward to the holiday months. What is often left out of this picture is the family tensions, financial strain, and limited daylight hours that affect us all.

If you can learn to accept there will be difficult parts of the holidays, they will cause you less emotional distress when they naturally arise. Acknowledging the difficulty will also give you a greater appreciation for the moments of joy you do find during the holidays. Try cherishing and enjoying these high moments with gratitude in light of the stressful circumstances you are also facing.

Prioritize what’s most important

The holidays often pull us in many directions. There are so many things we may feel expected to participate in. This year you might be feeling overwhelmed by the amount of work events, neighborhood gatherings, coat and food drives, dinners with friends, religious ceremonies, and family obligations on your calendar. Take some time to identify what is most important to you and practice saying “no” to the rest.

If you can, book social events for after the holidays for a time you will have more bandwidth to spend money and time with others.

Practice self-care

Consider making a self-care plan for the holiday season. Make sure you have worked time into your schedule to cook, bake, clean, exercise, rest, wrap presents, etc. Reserving space for taking care of yourself in that schedule will go a long way. Reflect on what makes you feel good (this could be exercise, full night of sleep, getting outside) and block out the time needed to experience these regularly.

Seek professional support if needed

Sometimes we can’t navigate these challenges on our own – and we don’t have to. If you are struggling this holiday season, consider reaching out to a counselor or finding a support group to get you through this time.

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