Although it’s often referred to as the “most wonderful time of the year,” many people will agree that the holiday season is also filled with stress, unmet expectations, and even anxiety and depression. There are some steps you can take to keep yourself mentally healthy and in good spirits throughout the holiday season. Read on for suggestions on sustaining your mental wellness so that you can not only survive the holidays but also enjoying the next few weeks.
Remember What the Holidays Mean to You
There are no right answers here; everyone has something else that’s most important to them when it comes to the holiday season. For you, it might mean spending time with your family, going to get-togethers with friends, volunteering to help others during the season, or cooking recipes that have been in your family for generations. To sustain mental wellness, make a list of your top priorities when it comes to December and focus on those. Anything else on your to-do list is a nice bonus, but assure yourself that it’s not all necessary for you to have a happy and fulfilling holiday season.
Take Time Each Day to Decompress
In the midst of shopping, cooking, and attending gatherings (on top of work, school, household tasks, and any other obligations you already have), it’s important to take some time each day to decompress and breathe. You might choose to take a hot bath, give yourself a manicure, watch an hour of mindless television, or read for an uninterrupted half hour. There will always be more on your list to accomplish, and taking some time each day to put all of those tasks aside is not going to change anything. Focus on yourself each day, even if it’s just for a few minutes at a time, to keep your mental wellness intact.
Have Realistic Expectations
Go back to your priority list and make sure that you’re not creating unrealistic expectations for yourself. Spending time with your family might be important to you, but you don’t have to spend every minute of the weekend together, for example. Aim for a couple of nice meals together, an evening spent playing games or baking cookies, and a morning of opening gifts. If you love baking, remind yourself that every batch does not have the be perfect. Go ahead and focus on the treats you like best and don’t be afraid to use a boxed mix to bake up the basics like sugar cookies or chocolate chip cookies. Don’t expect perfection because that’s a sure-fire way to set yourself up for disappointment.
Keep Up With Your Diet and Exercise
The busiest time of the year is often filled to the gills, but you still need to keep up with your workout routine. Exercise is not only important for physical health but mental wellness also. It can keep you feeling good about yourself and can even reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression. If you don’t have time for a full workout each day, at least go for a 10- or 20-minute walk. In addition, stick to your normal diet as much as you can. Balance the extra holiday treats with extra servings of vegetables. It will help keep you on an even keel and might even prevent some holiday-related weight gain. Even if you do gain a few pounds, you’ll be on track to lose it again next month.
Say No Sometimes
Don’t be pressured to do everything you’re asked to do. Remember: Prioritizing is the name of the game! It’s easy to get overwhelmed when you have requests coming from every direction. To maintain mental wellness, go back to your priority list and don’t feel guilty about saying no to the items that just don’t make the cut. This will reduce your stress and increase your satisfaction with the holiday season. Use your calendar to set your boundaries and stick to it. For example, if you want to leave Saturday afternoons free to spend at home, then it’s an automatic “no” if someone asks you to attend a gathering or go shopping with them on a Saturday afternoon.
Volunteer or Join a Group
On the other hand, if you are feeling left out and unsociable because you don’t have events or gatherings planned at all during the month of December, don’t just sit around feeling sorry for yourself. A lack of interaction with others can make mild depression worse. Either make some plans with friends or sign up to volunteer for a cause near and dear to your heart. Food pantries, toy giveaway programs, and humane societies are often looking for extra help during the holiday season. You can also try joining some type of community organization or a house of worship of your choosing. Find people to interact with to keep yourself mentally stimulated and happy.
Watch for Symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder
Some people suffer from seasonal affective disorder (SAD) also called the winter blues. The symptoms of SAD mimic those of depression, but they last only during the winter months when there’s less daylight. If you have noticed feelings of sadness and hopelessness, make an appointment with your doctor for an evaluation. You can also try spending some time outdoors each day, even if it’s cold and overcast.
Be Kind to Yourself During Your Year-End Reflection
Many people reflect on their successes and failures as the year draws to an end. Focus more on the things that went right than on the things that went wrong. Consider any mistakes that you’ve made to be education and a means of growth. Look back with forgiveness for yourself so that you can look ahead to the new year with optimism. If you are considering making some new year’s resolutions, be realistic to get your year off to a mentally healthy and encouraging start.
Don’t Be Afraid to Ask For Help
Getting through the holiday season with your mental wellness intact can take some outside help, too. If you are feeling anxious, depressed, or otherwise not well emotionally, make an appointment with a counselor or another mental health professional. Therapy or medication can make all the difference in the world when it comes to staying mentally well through the coming weeks and beyond.