Prioritizing your mental health through the holidays

Young woman feeling tired after packing gifts

This time of year is filled with traditions that bring friends and families together. While most of us cherish and look forward to these holiday gatherings and everything they entail, this season can be difficult for many.

You are not alone if you find it hard to enjoy the holidays. A survey by the American Psychological Association found that 38% of people felt their stress levels increased during the holiday season. The list of things contributing to stress this time of year is long. By prioritizing mental health, however, we can make choices to put ourselves first and minimize stress.

“I’ve just got too much to do.”

Time can be a significant stressor during the holidays, especially for busy parents. Decorating the house, hanging the lights, shopping, wrapping and sending the gifts, baking cookies, finding outfits for holiday parties and family pictures, sending the holiday cards, cleaning, planning the menu and cooking for a house full of guests. It’s a long list, and no matter how much you wish, there is only so much time in the day.

First things first – prioritize. What if you were to cross a few things off that list? What if you were to delegate a project to your spouse or child? By doing a little less, you may enjoy the season a little more. Maybe your calendar is filling up with events or other invitations, and you can’t do it all. “No,” is an acceptable answer. No explanation is required. Simply and kindly reply with, “No, thank you.”

Need tips for saying no? Check out this article, How to Say No to Things During the Holidays.

“I can’t afford it.”

Money is a common cause of stress, and this is particularly true during the holidays. Too often, consumerism can take hold of our holidays, especially when commercials bombard us well before Black Friday and extend weeks past Cyber Monday.

Take control by setting a budget and sticking to it. Whether you have one gift or a dozen gifts to buy, set a price limit for each, and don’t waver. Even better, consider drawing names within your family, friends or co-workers. Limiting gift-giving may be a welcome change as others have their own budgets. Homemade gifts, the gift of time or service, are often among the most thoughtful and memorable gifts.

Nerdwallet offers advice on How to Build a Holiday Budget That Works Every Year.

“This is working out as planned.”

Managing expectations can go a long way toward reducing holiday stress. It may be the neighbors, your Instagram feed, or a Pottery Barn catalog – they can all influence your expectations and create an idea of the ‘perfect’ holiday.

Try reframing what you want from your holidays. What would happen if you let go of these ideas and the pressure that goes along with chasing perfection? What if you focused on making memories, even if that includes when Amazon missed its delivery date or when you got stuck in an airport? Humor is a powerful tool for reframing our expectations. This is a good time to be open to laughing at ourselves and accepting that ‘good enough’ is sometimes better than ‘perfect.’

Psychology Today offers its take on Why Expectations Can Ruin the Holidays.

“I’m exhausted.”

Between the long to-do lists, holiday parties, alcohol, and sugary treats at every turn, it’s no surprise that you might feel sluggish and tired. The key to avoiding exhaustion is having fun but getting enough sleep, at least most nights. Have a cookie, but maybe just one, to keep your carb intake in check. Get some exercise, even if it’s a quick walk on a sunny afternoon. And if you slip up, be kind to yourself.

Read the CDC’s 12 Ways to Have a Healthy Holiday Season.

“I’m lonely.”

When so many activities revolve around family, it’s important to remember that for those without family or friends near, the holidays can highlight their absence. If you are alone during the holidays…

  • Use technology to text, FaceTime or Zoom to stay connected with loved ones.
  • Be on the lookout for others who may be spending the holidays alone and make plans with them.
  • Seek out community events and add them to your calendar.
  • Consider donating your time to local non-profits, food kitchens or nursing homes.

This article offers 8 Coping Strategies for Spending the Holidays Alone.

“I’m overwhelmed.”

Grief, anxiety and/or depression can easily be compounded during the holidays. If you find yourself experiencing mental and emotional health challenges, don’t avoid your emotions. Give yourself permission to be sad. It’s important to acknowledge your emotions and show yourself compassion. Remember to talk to yourself the way you would talk to your best friend. And remind yourself that emotions are temporary, even though it may not feel that way.

If emotions overwhelm you, reach out to your healthcare provider or mental health professional. To speak to someone right away, call the Lifeline by dialing 988. The 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline takes people’s calls to talk about many things: substance abuse, economic worries, relationships, sexual identity, getting over abuse, depression, mental and physical illness, and loneliness.

Explore 50 Digital Resources to Help You Manage Your Mental Health During the Holidays.

Holiday stress comes in many forms, as do the remedies. Establish boundaries, stick to a budget, lower your expectations, celebrate in moderation, seek out social connections, and reach out for help when you need it.

Wishing you happy (not perfect) holidays!

Contact Welia Health

Welia Health offers mental health services at our Mora and Pine City campuses. Please call 320.679.1313 to schedule an appointment.

For more information, please see this list of mental health resources, including crisis, counseling and psychiatry resources.