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Mental Health and the Holidays

1 month ago / by Sweta Vikram

7 tips to manage your mind during a time of fun and upheaval

Let’s address the elephant in the room: The holidays aren’t necessarily a joy-filled season for everyone. For those who are hurting, healing, grieving, recovering, or just trying to survive, the hustle and bustle of the holiday season might feel like the most dreadful time of the year. The pressure to be constantly happy, social, cheery, and enthusiastic can get exhausting very quickly if your heart isn’t experiencing any joy. Yes, holidays are a break from our day-to-day routine. But what if the predictability of everyday ordinariness is what nourishes a person’s mental health? What if this time of the year is the most difficult time?

According to the American Psychological Association, 38% of people surveyed said their stress increased during the holiday season, which can lead to physical illness, depression, anxiety, and substance misuse. The reasons given: lack of time, financial pressure, gift-giving, and family gatherings.[1]

Here are some tips for mentally preparing and planning for the holidays, so that you can cope with the season, and maybe even enjoy it.

Honor your feelings: My mom loved Christmas. Even in her 60s, that’s when she passed away, she was as excited as a five-year-old to see Santa Claus. While I love the festivities in NYC and being able to see family and friends, a big part of me misses my mom. I make room for these feelings to be present, and I light a candle in my mom’s name. I always remind my clients to hold space for their emotional upheavals. For some, family gatherings can feel triggering while for others, not having anyone around might be devastating. Choosing to be alone versus feeling lonely (whether by yourself or in company) are two separate situations. It’s important to be true to yourself.

Stick to your healthy habits: Just because it’s the holidays, it doesn’t mean that it’s a joy ride to bad habits. What we eat impacts how we feel. What we do everyday matters. I am all for enjoying the treats but in moderation. Because it’s the holiday season, you don’t need to give up eating mindfully, living intentionally, or moving daily. The best way to release stress and guilt is through movement and meditation. Good sleep hygiene and staying hydrated are also key. Taking care of your physical health can help improve your mood, lower feelings of stress and anxiety, and enhance long-term mental well-being.

Beware of the perils of excessive drinking: I don’t need to tell you that alcohol sales skyrocket during the holidays. If you enjoy a drink or two, it’s one thing. But not everyone drinks mindfully; alcohol seems to be a go-to “remedy” for broken hearts, energy refueling, and unhealed wounds too. Alcohol doesn’t fix anything. It might create an illusion of temporary relief, but it only increases the feelings of stress.

Have a realistic budget: A client’s neighborhood wine store added her to their mailing list and started to email her significant discounts. She was thrilled. “I am saving so much money!” I had to show her with kindness that the wine guy wasn’t being altruistic. She had been buying alcohol in excess for months, so the store owner offered her discounts, so she would be tempted to buy even more. She had fallen for his sales gimmick. Be it gifts or eating out or wine shopping, you don’t need to break your back. Plan your finances ahead of time instead of feeling surprised by the credit card bills later.

Plan ahead and reach out: A very dear friend of mine fears the holidays. She is an introvert by nature, but her survival skills kick into action by fall. By September end, she starts asking people what their holiday plans are. She starts to schedule lunches, tea meetings, and happy hour gatherings. She makes sure that she takes on extra responsibilities at work, so the empty days don’t taunt her.

It’s OK to say NO: I have an extended network of family and friends. But I am very picky about who I spend my time with and how I use my energy. You don’t have to attend every party or contribute to every gift list or partake in every activity. People understand if you explain nicely. And, even if they don’t, it’s OK to honor your needs without any guilt or pressure. Holidays are also the time to rest, replenish, and recuperate. It can be a balance between stillness and merriment.

Celebrate the similarities: After the last elections, I know so many families where people stopped talking to one another because of their political disagreements. Folks ended decade old friendships because they have a different viewpoint on racism, sexism, colorism, immigration and much more. In doing so, they ended up either alone during the holidays or with some heaviness in their hearts. If there is one thing that the pandemic has taught us … it is that no one knows what’s in store tomorrow. Set aside grievances, try to accept people for who they are, and hold space for your family and friends’ emotions. You don’t know what they are dealing with on the inside. I needn’t remind you that holidays can be stressful and anxiety-provoking.

The holiday season can take a toll on anyone. Practice self-care, compassion, and pauses because managing your mental health is key to feeling balanced during the holiday season.

“During this season, and every season, there are many people in need. The holidays tend to accentuate that need because of the spending sprees some go on at this time of year. A great way to reduce the stresses you may be feeling is to help and serve others.” ~ Dr. Daisy Sutherland

[1] https://www.mcleanhospital.org/essential/mcleans-guide-managing-mental-health-around-holidays