For many, the holidays are indeed the most wonderful time of the year. It’s a chance to catch-up with loved ones, reflect, feel more nostalgic, and show your gratitude. You can also enjoy your favorite holiday meals, movies, and songs. Because of this, it’s no surprise the holidays can be good for your mental health.
But, it can also evoke feelings of anxiety, sadness, and loneliness. In fact, the American Psychological Association has found:
While most people surveyed experienced happiness, love, and high spirits over the holidays, they were also accompanied by feelings of fatigue, stress, irritability, bloating, and sadness.
Thirty-eight percent of people surveyed reported that their stress level increased during the holiday season. The top stressors? Lack of time, lack of money, commercialism, the pressures of gift-giving, and family gatherings.
Surprisingly, 56 percent of respondents reported they experienced the most amount of stress at work, while, just 29 percent experienced greater amounts of stress at home.
So, while it does appear that there is such a thing as the holiday blues, it should be noted that suicide rates and visits to the ER do not spike around the holidays. And, while that is welcome news, the holidays can still be hard for most of us. Thankfully, there are ways that you can still attend to your mental health even during the hectic holiday season.
1. Pace yourself.
No matter how much you love the holidays, it can be exhausting. Somehow between your already busy schedule, you have to find time to attend parties, your children’s holiday performance, travel, decorate the house, and shop.
Instead of trying to do it all, pace yourself so that you have enough energy to actually enjoy the holidays. If you’re uncertain on how to achieve this, here are some ideas to get you started:
Be realistic about how much you can accomplish and only do the things that are important. It may help to write a list of the most important things you need to do to help keep you focused on your priorities.
Don’t overschedule. You may love attending holiday parties. But, you’re going to burn yourself out if you try to attend five different social events in one weekend.
It’s ok to politely say “no” to others if you don’t have the time or energy.
Take advantage of online shopping. And, if they offer gift wrapping, it’s worth the extra money to have someone else do this for you.
If you have the means, outsource certain tasks like hiring a service to clean your home.
Make time for yourself, even if it’s just 15 minutes to go for a walk, read a book, write down what you’re grateful for, or take a hot bath.
2. Set aside differences.
“Try to accept family members and friends as they are, even if they don't live up to all of your expectations,” recommends the Mayo Clinic Staff. “Set aside grievances until a more appropriate time for discussion.”
“And be understanding if others get upset or distressed when something goes awry. Chances are they're feeling the effects of holiday stress and depression, too.”
3. Everything in moderation.
Remember, everything in moderation. If you rely on food or alcohol to relieve stress or anxiety, then look for healthier outlets like exercise, meditation, or talking to a therapist.
4. Be honest with your feelings.
If you’re feeling a little down, maybe because you lost a loved one and the holidays remind you of them, acknowledge these feelings. It’s better to embrace the sadness than holding it in. You’ll probably want to do this alone for a little bit, like watching a sad move by yourself. But, if this becomes too much, reach out to a friend, family member, or mental health professional. You may also want to join a support group.
5. Celebrate traditions, and create new ones.
“Family traditions are an important part of feeling connected, grounded, and loved,” writes Miranda Anderson, founder of Live Free Creative Company. “Research shows that family traditions build relationships between generations, contribute to one’s identity, and routine.” Traditions also “build excitement and rhythm into our lives.” And, they can help you focus on what’s most important.
However, keep these traditions simple and meaningful. And, be willing to change them or embrace new ones as your life changes. For example, you may have spent every Christmas Eve with your grandparents. But, as you start to have children of your own, this may not be possible. But, you could still call or Facetime with them.
6. Stick to your routine.
Sticking to your routine can alleviate anxiety since it gives you a sense of control. This may not be possible every day. But, try to stick to your routine, such as going to bed the same time and keeping mealtime schedules, as much as possible during throughout holidays.
7. Get into the season of giving.
Volunteer, donate or do random acts of kindness. Examples would be to compliment a hardworking store clerk or buy the stranger behind you in line at Starbucks their coffee. Doing good is a proven way to reduce stress, improve your emotional well-being, and give you a sense of belonging.
8. If you don’t want to be alone, then don’t.
Some people don’t mind spending the holidays alone as it gives them the chance to relax or self-reflect. But, if you don’t want to be alone, then reach out to friends, family, or even co-workers and see what their plans are. You could also volunteer, travel solo, or just search online for single get-togethers or support groups in your area.
9. Stick to a budget.
If your finances are your main of stress during the holidays, then create a budget in advance so that you don’t overextend yourself. If you need assistance in this area, here is advice from Dave Ramsey on how to set up your holiday budget, as well as a list of apps that can help with your holiday shopping.
Other ideas to ensure that you don’t overspend, is to do a Secret Santa with family, friends, or co-workers. Or, you could borrow any of these free gift ideas from The Penny Hoarder.
10. Combat seasonal affective disorder.
Because the weather outside is frightful during this time of year, some people may experience seasonal affective disorder. Because the symptoms are similar to those of depression, they shouldn’t be neglected. And, it may experience why you’re not in the best of spirits.
You can treat SAD by getting as much sunlight as possible and remaining active. If natural light isn’t available, try dawn stimulators or light therapy. Other options would be aromatherapy or taking a trip where it’s sunny and warm.
11. The past often predicts the future.
“This is especially true for family interactions,” writes Patricia Petrone for Talkspace. “Negative interactions with family are among the biggest complaints therapists hear from clients around the holidays.”
“If aunt Ann and cousin Betsy get into a screaming match every year, and every year it causes an increase in anxiety for you, it’s likely this could happen again,” explains Petrone. “If a family member talks down to you each time your family is celebrating, which leads to a cascade of depressed feelings, you can bet you will hear it (and feel it) again this year.”
Use this knowledge to your advantage. For example, alter your holiday plans if it’s better for your well-being. Instead of spending time with your family, who may give you anxiety, spend the holidays with your partner’s family. “If that isn’t an option, have a fast exit strategy ready,” suggests Petrone.
“If things start to heat up, have your exit signal ready. And, “Avoid hosting gatherings if you know they typically turn out badly and there will be no escape.”
12. Make the most of the holidays.
Finally, make the most out of the holiday season so that it doesn’t pass you by. That doesn’t mean overextending yourself or completely breaking your routine and habits. But, you should also cut yourself some slack and have some fun holiday activities planned.
These are different for everyone. But, it could be taking your family ice skating or just driving around your area to admire the decorations. Others may enjoy going to a friend’s annual ugly sweater party. Or, you could bake cookies, listen to holiday music, or decorate your home.