How to Maintain Your Mental Health over the Holidays
How to Maintain Your Mental Health over the Holidays
Most of us have heard “the holidays are the happiest time of the year” in some way or another. Yet, for millions of us, that isn’t the case at all. According to the National Alliance of Mental Illness, 64% of people with mental illness report that it worsens over the holidays. This increase in symptoms relates to increased stress, pressure to feel happiness, feelings of missing out, and overall loneliness. In fact, the “holiday blues” are so common, they’re actually referred to that way by psychologists.
While the holiday blues can be temporary and easy to shake off, they might not be. Millions of us struggle with anxiety, depression, and other mental health disorders. And millions more struggle with substance use disorder and addiction. The holidays are a common time for relapse, self-harm, and even suicide. Taking steps to protect your mental health so that you have space to be happy, to enjoy your friends and family, and to be healthy is important.
The following tips will help you maintain your mental health over the holidays.
Give up Your Expectations
One of the reasons many of us feel bad over the holidays is that we set expectations. For example, we have very good memories of Christmas or New Year’s as kids. Those memories are great, but they’re also seen through a lens of nostalgia. You’ve forgotten the boring and lonely bits and only remembered the good things. In addition, it’s natural for some years to be better than others. Social distancing, COVID-19, recovery, and mental illness can all make having a traditional holiday difficult.
Let go of expectations. Most things are more enjoyable when you stop holding them to standards. And, Hallmark Christmases aren’t real
Remember it’s not the happiest time of the year, it’s just the time you’re most likely to have time off and time with family. It is what you and they make of it
Don’t worry about how things should be. If family members aren’t there, you aren’t celebrating like you want to, or whatever, you can still make the most of it.
Giving up expectations is easier said than done. But you can think about your expectations, which should allow you to align why you feel bad about something that is otherwise enjoyable.
Don’t Overstress Yourself
Stress and exhaustion are terrible for your mental health. Yet, many of us take on ridiculously busy holiday schedules involving daily social events, taking kids to events, and decorating, cooking, etc. Try not to. If you’re stressed over the holidays, either tone down on the “celebrations”, or get help. This also holds true if you’re staying with family. They can be great but having a lot of people in one house is stressful at the best of times, when everyone isn’t stressed about having things ready in time or going to something.
Take time out. Make sure you have at least 2-4 hours to yourself every day
Don’t overdo it. Saying “no” to an invite isn’t a bad thing, you’re already busy
Don’t worry about perfect. No one cares if the lights or dinner is “just so”. It’s impressive for a few minutes or for Instagram, but it’s a lot more important to do something fun and enjoy yourself with the people you care about
Consider mindfulness or meditation (or a similar relaxing exercise) as part of your daily routine
Set reasonable goals. The holidays aren’t fun if they involve 8-hour workdays getting everything together. If you have to do more than 1-2 hours a day for something, it’s probably too much.
Good habits are essential for mental health, sobriety, and even physical health. Many of us get to the holidays, have time off, and promptly drop everything. We eat poorly and too much, drink too much, and don’t move. Then, we feel bad. That’s normal. Make sure you maintain at least some of your old habits, such as eating a healthy breakfast, maintaining exercise, keeping the house clean, and doing other rituals you might enjoy.
Maintain your space and keep it clean and tidy, even with other people’s clutter around.
Many of these can be shared with family. For example, you can go for walks or hikes or ice skating with family. You might also want to take the time to yourself to destress.
Have Fun with Your Friends and Family
Even if you’re relatively alone, it’s important to make time to see friends and family. That can be difficult if you’re trying to social distance, but you can still do so. For example, you might:
Pick a few friends to see over Christmas and agree together not to see anyone else
Stay with parents or another close family member and have a very small Christmas get-together
Decide on safe holiday activities where you can all have fun
Here, outdoor activities and parties are your best option. While it might be cold, skating, outdoor hikes, and even having food outside can be a lot of fun.
Avoid Drugs and Alcohol
Most of us are accustomed to drinking, and maybe too much, over the holidays. While that’s normal, it’s bad for your mental health. This is especially true if you already have a problematic relationship with drugs and alcohol. The thing is, most are depressants, they push your mood down. You’ll feel worse when drunk. You’ll also wake up feeling worse, with less energy to feel good and enjoy your day. Avoiding drugs and alcohol can help you to experience the holidays without that negative.
Of course, if you don’t have any problems with either, it’s alright to have a bit of alcohol in social settings. But, recommended alcohol intake is just half a beer per day for women and one per men, or significantly less than most people would think.
While your holidays can vary greatly, it’s important to consider what you need. If you’re alone, you probably want to make sure you have time to see friends and family. If you’re staying with family, you want to make sure you can take some time to yourself. If you have nothing to do, it’s important to find fun activities to fill your time with. If you’re very busy over the holidays, take time out every day and make sure you have breaks.
Through all of it, make sure you’re willing and able to reach out and ask for help where needed. The holiday blues can be a symptom of greater depression. They can also relate to having lost family members, seasonal affective disorder, or general stress and anxiety. Whatever it is, seeking out help might be the best answer, because it will help you to feel better long-term.
If you or a loved one is struggling, reach out today for a free consultation. The Gooden Center is here to offer a personalized mental health treatment program designed around individual needs. We focus on offering personalized mental health treatment plans, delivered by an experienced and professional mental health treatment team ready to help you get your life back.