Amid all the festivities, the holidays can be a difficult time of year for many people. And that’s just in normal circumstances, let alone after the COVID-19-related stress of the past two years. Fortunately, there are things you can do to boost your mental health. Here are some tips to reduce your holiday stress.
Relax your expectations
The holidays don’t have to be perfect, and as we all know, they rarely (if ever) are. Focus on the quality of your time spent with friends and loved ones, and don’t overemphasize material things too much. Gift giving should be a pleasurable thing; keep things simple, meaningful, and affordable, and prioritize what matters most.
Set a budget for your holiday costs and gift giving, and stick to it. A lot of holiday stress has to do with financial pressure, and while you may not want to avoid spending entirely, you can control how much you spend. Take a look at your expenses, and set a realistic amount you can afford, in total, for all holiday costs. Your holiday expenditures should not interfere with your ability to pay for bills or essentials, and they should not result in overwhelming credit card debt.
Keep your commitments realistic. What can you take on without sacrificing adequate rest, exercise, and self-care? Fatigue from under-sleeping and overexertion can contribute to depression and anxiety and overall holiday stress. Don’t take on so much that you are unable to enjoy the most important part of the season: time with loved ones and family.
Take in the good
When you have a positive thought, experience, or emotion, take time to fully savor it. Learn to dwell on the positive. Negative emotions and experiences also come and go, but by learning to emphasize the good in your life, you train your brain to reinforce more positive thinking patterns, while your stress resilience, and capacity for joy and gratitude, increases.
Eat healthy foods and stay active
It’s normal to want to rest more, and indulge in treats during the holidays. In fact, we might want to indulge because of holiday stress. Don’t overdo it, though; take a brisk walk either before or after a big meal, and make time for exercise. Stay hydrated with pure water, and emphasize fresh fruits and vegetables. Too many sweets and rich foods can negatively impact the immune system, so stay focused on eating well, while leaving a little room for any indulgences you may want to enjoy—in moderation.
Family relationships can be complicated. If tensions arise, or if a particular family member is challenging for you, take some time for yourself and take a break. Go get some exercise, nap, or meditate. We can’t control the behaviors of others, but we can control how we respond.
Acknowledge your feelings
If you have experienced past trauma, recently lost someone you love, or if you are feeling isolated during the holidays, it is normal to feel sadness or grief — especially during the holiday season. The holidays are complex for a lot of people, and you are not alone if you aren’t feeling so great during the festive season. It’s OK to cry, grieve, or opt out altogether. Take care of you, and if you need support, reach out. Call a trusted friend, counselor, or even a crisis hotline if depression sets in. If you are feeling isolated, try volunteering your time to connect with others in a positive way. You can also join a support group or take a new class to meet others with common interests and life experiences.
Getting through this holiday season with your mental health intact requires setting some boundaries. Not comfortable going to your unvaccinated cousin’s house for Christmas dinner? Don’t go! Invite a few vaccinated relatives to your house on Christmas Eve instead. Feel like your uncle is trying to tempt you into a political debate? Political arguments can have powerful negative impacts on mental and physical health, while also fracturing families. So don’t take the bait. Respectfully shut down the conversation and walk away.
Before any holiday get-togethers, think through where divisions might occur. Then make a plan to cope with them. Keeping the peace while maintaining your mental health will be easier if you already know how you’ll handle stressful situations.
Of course, always seek professional help if you experience symptoms of severe depression or anxiety. For the holiday blues, deploy the tips above to help you relax and enjoy the season.