The holidays should be a time filled with joy and cheer, but if you struggle with mental health problems, you may find that they’re more filled with stress, disappointment, and unhappiness.
With 10% of people affected by seasonal affective disorder, it’s no wonder that the holidays see a rise in mental health problems. If you’ve struggled with feeling unhappy and anxious during holidays past, you’re probably wondering how to manage mental health this year.
Here are some of our best tips for improving mental health during the holiday season.
During the holidays, people are likely to ask a lot of things of you. Come to my gathering. Help me buy a gift. Help organize this charitable event. Pick up this person from the airport. The expectations are seemingly endless, and in the holiday spirit, you may feel obligated to say yes.
But here’s the secret. You don’t have to!
You are allowed to prioritize your own mental health during the holidays over the things that other people ask of you. So if you feel like there are too many parties to attend, RSVP no to a couple.
If you’re too busy buying your own gifts to worry about helping others, let them know that they might have to do that alone this year.
If you don’t want to make the drive to the airport, offer to order your relative a taxi instead. There are plenty of ways to cut down the amount on your plate, but the first step is being comfortable with the idea of saying no to people.
When you just keep going without ever stopping, you’re more likely to feel worn out. Are you going straight from Christmas shopping, to baking, to a party, and then to bed just to repeat the process the next morning?
You need to set aside time to do absolutely nothing.
Plan to leave parties a little early so that you can cozy up with a book or TV show before you go to bed. Order some of your gifts online so that you don’t have to worry about going out to buy them.
Make sure that every day has a bit of time that is just about doing what you want to do; not what you need to do. This time shouldn’t be dedicated to decorating, shopping, cooking, or anything else that may be on your to-do list. This is the time to sit back and listen to your own mind and body about what YOU want.
One of the most stressful things about the holidays is how much they cost. If you haven’t broken it down into manageable bits and planned exactly how much you’ll be spending for the holidays, you may feel overwhelmed trying to estimate it. You may wonder how it will all be possible.
By setting a reasonable budget and sticking to it, you can alleviate some of that stress. A lot of stress and anxiety comes from feeling out of control, but with a budget, you are in control of how much you’re willing to spend.
Take a look at your current funds and what you can expect to make before the end of the year. Then consider how much you’re realistically willing to take out of that. That will be your total budget.
Then you can break that budget down into categories such as:
Once it’s all broken down you can consider how to save in areas with fewer funds allocated to them.
Consider some homemade or thrifted gifts. Used bookstores carry books in fantastic shape for inexpensive prices. See if you can stay with family members instead of in a hotel. Find free holiday activities for the family to do such as walks to see Christmas lights in the neighborhood. Reuse decorations from last year or make your own bespoke decorations.
With the stress of the holidays, drugs and alcohol can look like the escape you need. But unfortunately, relying on mind-altering substances for comfort is never healthy and can lead to heavier reliance down the line.
If it’s possible, remove alcohol from the equation for yourself entirely. If you already have mental health issues, you’re more likely to become addicted to the false feeling of relaxation that alcohol can offer you. Instead, it’s better to focus on fixing the roots of your problems through therapy and the advice included on this list.
While the holidays should be about coming together with family for times of joy and cheer, sometimes trauma related to our own family members can prevent that from happening.
You may have one or a few family members who make conversations tense or even guide conversations into full-out family feuds. Just being around them can cause stress and anxiety.
However, you can be in control of that situation. You can give yourself permission to remove yourself from any situation that is becoming toxic before it gets there. If you don’t like the direction a conversation is heading in, remove yourself from it. Here are some excuses that you can keep in your back pocket for such occasions:
If you don’t feel comfortable entirely removing yourself from the conversation, you can try redirecting it instead. Ask them about something pleasant going on in their lives or bring up something you recently enjoyed that is unrelated to the things they typically fight about.
Another way to feel in control of stressful interactions is to preplan some things that you’d like to talk about. By having some conversation topics in your back pocket you can feel sure that anytime things are going in an unsavory direction, you can redirect them.
Consider these topics to bring up at a moments notice:
All of these can spark some topics that you’d like to talk about. And by having a pleasant conversation, you’ll go home at the end of the night feeling much more satisfied than if you’d let other people take total control. This is also a good way to be sure you won’t have to talk about topics that seem harmless to others but are sensitive to you.
One of the hardest things about the holidays can be remembering the people who used to be there. Maybe a lot of your favorite holiday memories are related to people who are no longer with you. It can be hard to enjoy and celebrate the holidays when someone important is missing from them.
It’s okay to take a moment by yourself or with others to mourn your lost loved one. Maybe put on their favorite Christmas song and sit in silence for the time it plays.
By allotting time specifically for mourning, you don’t have to worry during the rest of the celebrations that you aren’t paying them an appropriate amount of mind. You set the time to remember them. Now you can live in the present and enjoy your time on earth just like they would want you to.
Seasonal affective disorder is a serious condition caused by limited interaction with sunlight and a predisposition to depression.
If you’re experiencing seasonal affective disorder, it can make the holidays that much harder. It can feel like too much to plan for and participate in celebrations when you’re worried about getting through every day in a depressive mood.
Luckily there are ways to combat seasonal affective disorder. Get outside during the middle of the day when the sun is the brightest. Work near windows during the day and outfit your house with the brightest lights possible.
If you find that increasing your intake of light isn’t enough, consider therapy and medication during this difficult season.
Taking care of your body helps take care of your mind. A healthy body makes it easier to keep your mental health in check because you’re more equipped to produce serotonin and other mood-boosting chemicals in your brain.
You don’t need to take on a whole new restrictive diet. In fact, you probably shouldn’t. But keeping an eye on your sugar intake and making sure you fill yourself with nourishing foods can make a world of difference.
When you eat a lot of sugar all at once without giving your body longer-lasting energy, you’re likely to experience a crash in energy later. That energy crash can be accompanied by an emotional crash that can make your mental health symptoms feel so much worse.
Even if you’re having sugar, make sure you’re giving your body complex carbohydrates to work with as well such as whole grains, starches, and vegetables.
Unfortunately, part of recovery from mental health is learning to accept that you can’t always be in control. You certainly cannot be in control of other people’s behavior and treatment of you. But you can be in control of how you treat others, and that’s beautiful.
If part of your feelings of dread related to the holidays come from feeling like people are not kind enough to each other, be the change you want to see.
If you have it in you (and remember it IS okay to say no), find ways to spread a little extra kindness. Treat the family member you find difficult with grace and understanding. Consider what things in their life may have led them to be the way they are. Look at those aspects of them with love and patience.
Create your own or participate in charitable outreach. Many community centers have programs for giving gifts to the less fortunate, or you can reach out to volunteer at your local soup kitchen. You’ll be amazed at how much better you’ll feel after doing good for others. It may start to strengthen your own belief in the good in the world.
Everyone needs a support system to reach out to when the going gets hard. You need people that you can call to tell about your problems without fear of judgment and frustration. You need to know who to call in an emergency.
Make a list now of all the people you can rely on. Make a couple of tiers of people. Those you can call to cheer up with, those you can call for a quick vent, and those you feel comfortable calling in a real state of emergency. This list will serve two purposes.
First of all, making it right now will make you feel confident in who you have and extra loved. It’s nice to see a physical representation of all the people who care about you. Second, you won’t have to think hard about who to call once you’re already feeling stressed.
If you don’t know who you would put on your list, now may be a good time to start group therapy. Group therapy will at least put you in contact with a couple of counselors and therapists who you can treat as a support system for now until you make your own.
By managing stress ahead of time and making plans for tricky situations, you can make your anxiety or depression much less of a problem during the holiday season. Remember that you should feel empowered to take control of certain situations to manage your mental health. You can say no. You can set your limits. And you can have happy holidays.