The holidays are just around the corner and although they can be a joy-filled season, they can also be stressful and challenging. A NAMI study showed that 64% of people with mental illness report holidays make their conditions worse. The holiday season is not always the most wonderful time of the year for some. For those coping with mental health challenges, the holiday season can be a lonely or stressful time, filled with anxiety and/or depression. If you’re living with a mental health condition, stress can also contribute to worsening symptoms. Not to mention the COVID-19 crisis has made maintaining mental health even more challenging for so many.
Here are some suggestions for how you can reduce stress and maintain good mental health during the holiday season:
- Take steps to stay safe. As COVID-19 continues to pose a severe risk to communities, don’t attend gatherings if you aren’t comfortable doing so or feel ill.
- Prioritize your needs. Show yourself some kindness! Remember to put your own mental and physical well-being first. After all, you can’t pour from an empty cup. Identify what your triggers are to help you prepare for stressful situations. Shopping for gifts too stressful? Attending social gatherings give you anxiety? What is making you feel physically and mentally distressed? Once you know this, you can take steps to avoid or deal with stress.
- Be thankful. It’s easy to become caught up in the negative, so write a gratitude list and offer thanks for everything that is good in your life. As the end of the year nears, it’s a good time to reflect on what you are grateful for, then thank those who have supported you. Gratitude has been shown to improve mental health.
- Manage your time and don’t overdo it. Planning your time and activities can help you use your time well. Making a day-to-day schedule helps ensure you don’t feel overwhelmed by everyday tasks and deadlines. It’s okay to say no to things that don’t fit into your schedule or make you feel good.
- Be realistic. Even pre-pandemic, the happy lives of the people shown in those holiday commercials are fictional. We all have struggles one time or another and it’s not realistic to expect otherwise. Sometimes, it’s simply not possible to find the perfect gift or have a peaceful time with family. (Yes, even Zoom family gatherings can be stressful!)
- Set boundaries. Family dynamics can be complex. Acknowledge them and accept that you can only control yourself. If you need to, find ways to limit your exposure.
- Take time for relaxation. Deep breathing, meditation and progressive muscle relaxation are good ways to calm yourself. Have some knots? Take a spa day or book a massage. Taking a break to refocus can have benefits beyond the immediate moment.
- Stay active. Schedule time to walk outside, bike or join a dance class. Whatever you do, make sure you enjoy it. It’s easier to stay on track when you think it’s fun. Daily exercise naturally produces stress-relieving hormones in your body and improves your overall physical health.
- Take time for yourself and prioritize self-care. Schedule time for activities that make you feel good. It might be a yoga class, reading a book, going to the movies, getting a massage, listening to music you love, or taking a long walk. It’s okay to prioritize alone time you need to recharge.
- Eat well. With dinners, parties, and dessert trays at every turn, our eating habits are challenged during the holiday season. Try to maintain a healthy diet through it all. Eating unprocessed foods, like whole grains, vegetables, and fresh fruit is the foundation for a healthy body and mind. Eating well can also help stabilize your mood. It’s good to indulge on occasion, but don’t overdo it.
- Catch those ZZZs. Symptoms of some mental health conditions, like mania in bipolar disorder, can be triggered by getting too little sleep. Not to mention that being sleep deprived isn’t a picnic for anyone in general.
- Watch the alcohol and drugs. They don’t actually reduce stress: in fact, they often worsen it. If you’re struggling with substance abuse, educate yourself and get help.
- Spend time in nature. Studies show that time in nature reduces stress. Need to break away from family during a holiday gathering? Talk a walk in a local park.
- Volunteer. The act of volunteering can provide a great source of comfort. By helping people who are not as fortunate, you can also feel less lonely or isolated and more connected to your community.
- Find support. Whether it’s with friends, family, a counselor or a support group, venting can help. Consider attending a free support group if you’re uncomfortable speaking to those close to you.
- Keep up or seek therapy. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, it may be time to share with your mental health professional. They can help you pinpoint specific events that trigger you and help you create an action plan to change them. If you’re already seeing a therapist, keep it up.
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