Guide to Managing Our Mental Health Through the Holidays
Are you one of those people who loves the holiday season, get togethers with family and friends, buying gifts, seeing the lights, spending time with those you love? Or are you one of those people who dreads the holidays, the spending time with loved ones, having to meet deadlines at work due to the shortened work time for many, the financial strain of buying gifts, going to parties, loss of loved ones, and having your social calendar packed?
According to the American Psychological Association 38% of people say their stress levels go up over 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. And 64% of people who struggle with mental health illness say their symptoms become worse over the holidays.
However, there are ways in which we can help ourselves over the holidays. It’s important to recognize that we do have more control over these things, and there are ways to take more control.
Lacking the holiday spirit is one of the things I hear from people who struggle at this time of year. Many people feel pressured to “put on a happy face and pretend” so that they don’t feel pressured or even bullied about the happiest time of the year. How can you help yourself with this?
- First honor your feelings. You don’t need to force yourself to be joyful and happy. When we do this, we judge ourselves harshly and this can make our mental health symptoms worse.
- Avoid numbing your feelings with chemicals, over spending, which can worsen your depression and anxiety.
- If possible, surround yourself with others who feel like you do, celebrate in your own way with your own traditions.
- Recognizing what your triggers are and preparing yourself with healthy skills on how to help yourself when they occur.
You’ve lost someone and are overwhelmed with the loss and grief. It’s human nature to compare our success to others. It’s also natural to compare our loss, grief or trauma to someone else. Take time for yourself, check in with your feelings. If you don’t feel as if you have the strength to go to that holiday gathering then don’t do it. However, don’t isolate from everything during the holiday season either. Ways to help yourself.
- If you cannot celebrate this year then don’t. Don’t force yourself to do something you aren’t prepared to handle yet. Make sure you have people who you can check in with, for instance another loved one, family member, grief group, or counselor.
- Communicate with those around you about what you need. People cannot read your mind; they need to know how to help you get through the holiday season. Is it something like going for a walk, starting a new tradition or maybe just sitting with you and crying? Help them, help you by telling them what you need.
You’re feeling pressured to participate in activities, when you really don’t want to. It’s okay to say no. Remember “No” is a complete sentence and statement. You can set healthy boundaries with those you love by saying “I’m not going to every holiday party, I’m sitting this one out.” How else can you help yourself?
- Accept your own limits and be patient with those around you. Remember they are excited and want you to be excited as well, be gentle and patient with them.
- Prioritize which events, activities, parties etc., are the most important. As I stated above, be comfortable with saying no patiently and firmly.
- Self-care! Get a massage, go shopping for you, go out to eat with friends, read a book, garden, do whatever is it that you do to relax. Just because it’s the holidays, don’t forget to take care of you.
- If you feel you can’t celebrate this year because it’s too hard or maybe it just doesn’t mean as much to you. Do something else. Start taking vacations over the holidays. Maybe you start a brand new tradition for yourself.
Gift giving. Once Halloween is over you start seeing the Christmas displays in stores sooner if you are in to crafts, the ads on tv and radio start up. There can be a lot of pressure to find or make the perfect gift.
- Stay within your budget, don’t over spend so that then you continue to be depressed and stressed after the holidays by trying to pay off all of the debt you’ve accrued.
- A homemade gift can hold a very special place for many. One of our family traditions is to make Christmas candy and give it to friends and neighbors.
- Gifting your time as well is a great way to give. Helping a neighbor put up Christmas decorations, serving meals at a shelter, helping a family or friend with a project.
Daylight Savings Time, one of the things I loved and miss about Arizona is they don’t participate in the moving of the clocks twice a year. Leaving for work in the dark and coming home in the dark happens for many people. Not getting enough sun, can make your mental health symptoms worse.
- Go outside for walks during the day, even at work. Living in Florida it’s nice much of the year, go outside during lunch. On your days off, spend as much time outside absorbing that vitamin D and it will help with your mood.
- Regulate your sleep. If you have to get up earlier on your days off to get more sunlight, that means going to bed a little earlier.
- Start exercising, one of the best things we can do for our mental and physical health is to get up and get moving.
Feeling alone or isolated. I will never forget my first Christmas away from family. I was so depressed, I sat in my little apartment and cried the majority of the day, feeling sorry for myself. After that, I made some big changes.
- Volunteer at a shelter. Helping others helps us to recognize how much we have to be grateful for.
- I always have volunteered to work Christmas day for co-workers who had young children. This helps me to feel a part of the season and lifts my mood.
- Take advantage of technology. My first Christmas alone, I had to wait to call my family until the evening time for long-distance, back in the day you had to pay extra for long distance calls.
- Self-care! I cannot emphasize enough how important this one is when you are struggling. Call friends and family, go for a walk, read, watch Netflix.
The holidays can be a hard time of the year for many people, you are not alone. If you feel that you need more help to get you through the season, please call Life Enhancement Counseling Services today at 407-443-8862 to schedule an appointment with one of our experienced mental health counselors.