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Mental Health and the Holidays

The holiday season can be both a source of joy and a source of stress. During this time of year, I often have clients who report intense levels of stress due to a variety of reasons: returning to school, seasonal changes, or dealing with difficult family members during holiday events. To an extent, holiday stress is normal given the many changes and demands that we might have to face. However, unchecked stress can make the holiday season just miserable. Below are some tips to keep in mind if you experience heightened levels of stress during this time of year.

Let go of unrealistic expectations

When you think of the holiday season, consider what is most important to you. Is it time to reconnect with family? Are there rituals that you want to hold onto? Is it important for you to have time for yourself to take a break?

Aim to let go of unrealistic expectations, such as holding a seamless event or getting the “just perfect” family photo. If things don’t go perfectly, try to hold onto what feels “just enough” for you. If the holiday family photo is ruined by someone’s sneeze, then turn it into a funny story or a new silly family tradition.

Identify stressors

Sample stressors might include:

  • Financial anxiety over the cost of gifts, travel, food, etc.

  • Family drama and potential arguments

  • Physical health issues

  • Demands from work and/or school

Some of these things may be outside of your control, such as having a family member with strongly different beliefs than you. However, some of these stressors may benefit from some gentle problem-solving. Financial stress may be addressed by developing a spending plan or budget for the holidays. You can write out your boundaries or practice assertiveness skills to prevent family conflict. Establishing a workout schedule or creating a meal plan may help you to better cope with health issues. Whatever the stressors may be, aim to resolve them, or try the next strategy.

Accept what is outside of your control

The season will come and go. It may help to practice reminding yourself that “it is what it is”. It may not be helpful to your health or energy levels to try to fight it. Aim to focus on what is within your control.

Don’t neglect your self-care routine

Hold onto the things that work best for you, and try to boost your self-care if needed. Prioritize sleep, drinking water, exercising, getting fresh air, and eating nourishing foods. Remember to stop every once in a while to practice some deep-breathing or a mindfulness exercise.

It’s also okay to step away from over-stimulating activities for a few moments of self-care. For example, if you will be hosting several people at your home for Thanksgiving, designate a spot (such as an armchair in a corner or a quiet bedroom) where you can take breaks if needed. If you need some help on developing your self-care routine, I’ve written a previous post on self-care tips.

Stick to healthy boundaries

This may mean saying “no”, even when you feel compelled not to. A boss may ask you to work overtime, or a well-meaning family member may ask you to take on a holiday project. If you do not have the time and/or energy to take this on, practice assertive communication. Sticking to your boundaries will help you to conserve some of your mental energy.

Do you have any tips for coping with holiday stress?

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