How to Stay Mentally Healthy Through the Holidays

Between overeating, over-socializing, and too much time with relatives, you might feel your mental health begin to wane. You might feel like you need a bit more time alone, some time to pray or meditate, or time at the gym. Perhaps with all the festivities of the holidays, you notice your social anxiety kicking in or an old craving to drink, or even some  loneliness or depression. Whatever it is, the holidays can sometimes bring up challenging experiences. Here are a few strategies for staying mentally healthy through the holidays.

Enjoy the Season

If you find that you and your teen need some mental health R & R (rest and recuperation), here are a few ideas to consider:

Take the Opportunity to Celebrate – Although the holidays can be stressful, it can also be fun. Decorating the tree, going for a winter evening walk, strolling through a park lit up with Christmas lights, and shopping together are great ways to have fun with your teen this holiday season.

Give Back to the Community – One of the most beautiful parts of the holiday season is the amount of giving that takes place around the world. Not only do family members buy gifts for each other, but many people donate money and/or time to their favorite charity. You and your teen might choose to do the same. In return, you might experience the feeling of fulfillment, satisfaction, and joy that comes from helping others in some way.

Create Some Alone Time…Together – Often, the season make schedules busier. There are parties to prepare a potluck dish for, celebrations to attend, cleaning the house for visiting relatives, not to mention holiday shopping. The busyness of the season can interfere with either you and your teen each having  alone time. It can also interfere with the two of you spending quality time together. In order to stay mentally healthy, if you find that you’re overwhelmed or stressed, try to find 15 minutes per day to devote to yourself, and encourage your teen to do the same. At the same time, it may be important to carve out quality one-on-one time with one another. Let there be no distractions or multi-tasking. Connecting with each other can help boost each other’s mood and strengthen your relationship.

Exercise – If you and the rest of your family are in fact attending many holiday parties, then you might be feeling the extra weight around the belly. One clear way to stay both physically and mentally healthy during the holidays is to exercise. Physical activity can help keep the weight off, but it can also:

  • maintain physical health
  • release endorphins
  • boost your mood and positive feelings
  • increase brain health
  • release tension
  • take the mind off obsessive thoughts
  • provide you with higher doses of dopamine and serotonin
  • prevent depression or low moods

Along with these benefits, exercise can also help the brain make new neural connections, which can facilitate change that you want to last. If you or your teen are preparing to make a change in the coming new year, exercise can help you get there. Because each time the brain learns a new skill, it makes a new neural connection. And exercise helps the brain make and strengthen those connections. In other words, exercise can strengthen the ability to respond to life and its stressors in a healthy way. Another benefit of exercise is the vitality that it creates in the mind and body. With this vitality, you might gain some clarity about life, feel energetic, and be prepared for any challenging moments.

Prevent Cravings to Drink or Use Drugs

If you or your teen have experienced alcohol or drug addiction, sometimes the holidays are the time of year when old wounds, triggers, and cravings resurface. This can become particularly challenging at dinner parties, or with others in the family who still have a problem with substances. If you want to stay sober and mentally healthy, or help your teen stay sober, here are some tricks to know so that cravings don’t take over:

Plan ahead – A great way to stay mentally healthy is to plan ahead. If you’re worried about spending time with others that might trigger you, plan to have a buddy with you – someone who can look out for you. If you’re concerned about being at a party with alcohol, prepare ahead of time how you’re going to answer if someone asks why you’re not drinking. Or have a non-alcoholic drink in your hand so no one is tempted to get you a drink. Planning ahead for moments that you think might be triggering can prevent triggers, cravings, and unwanted stress.

Accept others for who they are – If you know that you’re going to see someone who has always made you feel bad, rather than try to avoid or strike back at them, simply accept them for who they are. Accept them for being aggressive, rude, or pushing. If that feels too difficult, you can always leave their presence. Go for a walk. Or take a drive. Above all, don’t let someone drive you to drink or use drugs.

Focus on your breathing – Breathing is a tool to use right in the moment of anxiety, depression, triggers, or cravings. In these moments, you can breathe. If you’re not able to get outside, get some fresh air, meditate, practice yoga, or write in your journal, you can always breathe. Having tools to use right in the moment can help avoid relapse and prevent emotional distress.

Go to More 12-Step Meetings – Another way to protect you and/or your teen from substance use is to attend more 12-step meetings or support groups. Because the holidays can be an emotionally challenging time, which in turn can create cravings or triggers, it’s important to have a strong network of support. Going to 12-step meetings is one way to strengthen a commitment to sobriety.

Manage Strong Emotions

This is the time of year that some people can feel lonely, guilty, shameful, angry, regretful, sad, or depressed. These strong emotions can be challenging, leading to unhealthy coping tools – such as substance use, risky behavior, or conflict in relationships. If you or your teen are experiencing intense emotions, here are a few tips to consider to stay mentally healthy through the holidays:

Try not to isolate. Although your family may be receiving all sorts of invitations this time of year, strong emotions can trigger feelings of isolation and wanting to stay home. But too much isolation can actually worsen feelings of depression and low self worth. If you don’t want to be around friends and family, go out with someone whose company you enjoy, listen to holiday music, or attend a local neighborhood event.

Become emotionally aware. If there’s ever a time of year to get in touch with your emotions, this is it. The holidays can bring both negative and positive emotions, and sometimes in intensity. One way to learn to stay in control of your emotions is to stay in touch with them. Become aware of what you’re feeling and when. As the skill of emotional awareness gets stronger in you and your teen, you’ll both be able to manage the challenging emotions like anger, regret, hatred, sadness, or loss.

Stay within your budget. A big trigger to strong feelings is finances. If you want to avoid feeling anxious or depressed this season, don’t spend more than you have. It’s possible to participate in gift giving without breaking the bank. For instance, you can make your own gifts, give someone the gift of your time, or keep the cost of gifts under a certain amount. Staying within your budget will leave your emotional bank prepared for the joyful feelings that can come with the season.

Practice a coping skill. Staying mentally healthy involves using coping tools to effectively deal with negative emotions when they arise. If you’ve learned different coping tools earlier in the year, now is the time of year to practice them. You might choose one that has stuck with you and make it a point to practice it when you need it. Deep breathing, mindfulness, or going for a slow walk can all be useful tools this time of year, if either you or your teen need it.

Not all emotions are tough, though. Often, the holiday season brings feelings of love and happiness. If you and your teen want to tap into that love, be sure to communicate how much you love your child. Let them know how much you appreciate them. And you don’t need to give your teen a gift to do so. Simply saying the words, “I love you” can be a great gift.