Ah, the Holiday Season – the most wonderful time of the year! Or is it? Although this is an exciting and joyous time for many, it can also be a very difficult and challenging time that takes a toll on people’s mental health and emotional wellbeing.
Perhaps you are feeling overwhelmed with seemingly endless gift-lists, are dealing with family conflicts, mourning the loss of loved ones, or are sad to be spending the Holidays alone. You may also be experiencing increased stress, anxiety, frustration, and sadness because your Holiday plans have changed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Whatever the case may be, you can reduce your holiday-induced stress with these practical tips and suggestions. Here are 10 ways to manage your mental health during the Holidays.
Tips to Prevent & Deal with Holiday Stress
1. Check-in with Yourself
Holidays often dredge up a lot of difficult and unwanted emotions. We may try to mask or suppress feelings of sadness, overwhelm, disappointment, anxiety, loneliness, grief etc., because we are "supposed" to be "happy" this time of year. However, it is important that we reflect on how we are feeling and acknowledge our emotions- they are valid, and also only temporary!
TIP: If it is just too painful to confront your difficult emotions and thoughts, try creating some distance between them by saying to yourself "I feel stressed" or "I am having the thought that I don't like this time of year", rather than "I'm stressed" or "I don't like this time of year". Learning to mindfully deal with difficult emotions can help alleviate their stressful impact.
2. Set Healthy Boundaries
Setting healthy boundaries can be especially hard during the Holidays when we feel a sense of obligation or responsibility to appease others or partake in certain festivities. Boundaries essentially determine what you are comfortable with within relationships with others. During the Holidays, this may look like not overscheduling yourself or taking on too much in order to preserve your mental and emotional wellbeing. And with the current pandemic, boundaries are likely to be more physical- you may have to tell your family members that you are not comfortable with hugging or getting too close to them. Whatever it is, know your limits and stay within them- it is perfectly ok to say “no”.
REMINDER: You are not responsible for the other person’s reaction to the boundary you set. This may sound harsh, but if they get upset with the limits you set, that is their problem.
3. Put Aside Differences
You may be feeling stressed and uneasy about having to see certain family members you are in conflict with or just don’t mesh with. There may be some tension and subtle “digs” but try your best to save heavy (and potentially disastrous) conversations for a more appropriate time. And for the family members that just rub you the wrong way, try to accept that they are unlikely to change their opinions or habits just because it is the Holidays. Remind yourself that they are probably dealing with added stress this time of year too so try to be more understanding if something upsets you- it can be addressed later.
4. Take Time to Relax
With the hustle and bustle of the Holiday season, you are probably feeling a lot of pressure and a sense of urgency to get your shopping and other preparations done in time. Not to mention, when it actually comes time to participating in Holiday events, that can often feel quite chaotic too! Be sure to prioritize your self-care practices during this busy and stressful time. If you need to take a day off work recharge or need to spend some time alone while visiting family out of town, that is perfectly ok. You need to make sure you are taking care of yourself- even if it is just 15-minutes a day.
5. Stick to your Routine
Maintaining a healthy routine amidst the holiday chaos and stress is quite hard. You may be more prone to eating unhealthily, stop going to the gym, or find that your sleep schedule is all over the place. It is important that you try your best to not let your healthy habits slip so that you can effectively manage stress and be ready to tackle the Holiday season!
TIP: Planning ahead can help you set and maintain a balanced schedule. If you know you are going to be busy with certain tasks and events, create a schedule in advance that allows time for self-care and other necessary parts of your routine. You may also consider other tips for planning ahead like creating lists, meal prep, or budgeting your finances.
6. Be Grateful
There is extensive research demonstrating that practicing gratitude daily has lots of benefits to your mental, emotional, and physical health. So instead of getting hung-up on all the drawbacks or negative feelings that arise during the Holidays, try to look for things that you are grateful for this Holiday season. Maybe you are grateful for the opportunity to spend time with loved ones or for the ability to have a nice meal.
TIP: Write down 3 things you are grateful for each day to instil feelings of gratitude, appreciation, fulfillment, and contentment.
7. Focus on What is in Your Control
There are likely going times when you feel frustrated that things aren't going as expected or maybe the actions of others are upsetting you in some way. Whatever the case may be, try focusing on what is in your control (Hint: This is you...your actions, thoughts, attitudes!) this Holiday season to help reduce stress and anxiety. If you aren't happy with the situation, do what you can to change it, but if it is truly out of your control, learn to accept it and move on; there is no sense worrying about things we have no control over.
TIP: If you find yourself grappling with things out of your control and are becoming overly anxious, STOP, take a breath, acknowledge your thoughts and feelings, and move forward with whatever action will be most helpful to you at that moment. You've got this!
8. Be Realistic
This piece of advice is especially important this year as we adjust to the many changes and restrictions put in place due to the current pandemic. The Holidays will not be the same as they were last year, and this may be a hard pill for many to swallow, eliciting feelings of grief and loss. However, try your best to manage your expectations this year and to be realistic about them. Perhaps you aren’t able to visit family or go on an annual trip. It may take some creativity and problem-solving to find a reasonable solution.
REMINDER: Stop striving for perfection during the Holidays; perfection is not realistic as it does not exist.
9. Be Aware of your Triggers
With the added feelings of stress, anxiety, and sadness that often accompany the Holiday season, people may be more susceptible to falling into unhealthy habits. Perhaps you tend to overeat or drink more than usual when you are stressed. If you struggle with substance abuse, this may be an especially vulnerable time of year for you. Become aware of what triggers you to engage in unhealthy habits and try to prevent encountering such trigger(s) or utilize your coping skills to manage stress and reduce its impact.
10. Reach Out to Someone
You don’t have to go this Holiday season alone. Whether it is from the support of family, friends, a co-worker, or mental health professional, there is always someone to talk to if you are feeling stressed, overwhelmed, sad, or depressed.
Speaking to a counsellor can help alleviate emotional burdens and help you manage your stress more effectively so that it does not take a toll on you. To book a free 15-minute consultation with a licensed mental health professional click here.