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How To Maintain Good Mental Health During The Holidays

Mental Health

Even though the holidays are celebrated as a wonderful time of year to spend with family and friends, the reality is the Thanksgiving to Christmas season can feel pretty stressful. If you don’t struggle with stress, anxiety, and depression year round, those emotional states can really creep up on you during the holidays. And if you struggle with mental health normally, the holidays can be even tougher A study by NAMI reported that 64% of people with mental illness report that holidays make their conditions worse.

For most people, it can be difficult to be around a lot of people, even if they’re family and friends; the social pressure to be present in a large group can be overwhelming. It can also be hard to be out of your routine and your typical comforts for an extended period of time; even if you’re not sleeping on a couch for Thanksgiving, being in someone else’s space can introduce some stress. And for most people, strained family relationships and trauma can make the holidays an emotional minefield.

We at The Source know that if you’re mentally healthy, you can experience more holistic health and wellness. So we’re not just here to care for your physical needs, but your mental and emotional needs as well. If you’re looking for more concerted help with mental health, we have licensed professional counselors on staff ready to give you the support you need. We’ve also distilled some helpful tips in this article to help you survive (and even thrive) this holiday season.

1. Prep Before You Leave To See Family

Take some time before the holidays to reflect on how the last few holidays have been for you. Think about what events have triggered a negative emotional response and think about how those same triggers can be present at the upcoming holiday celebration. Try not to stress out about it, but start thinking through healthy coping mechanisms now. Consider how you can avoid specific stressors and what your plan of action will be if something stressful happens. Spend some time in prayer and journaling to clear your mental and emotional backlog so you can enter family gatherings with a fresher perspective and a clearer mind.

2. Find Community If You’re Alone

Whether by choice or not, it can be hard to spend the holidays alone, even if you’re an introvert. The holidays for most people comprise several cold and overcast months, so seasonal affective disorder can make it even harder to be alone. We encourage you to avoid isolation and take proactive steps to be around others during the holidays. Isolation often escalates to depression so it’s imperative to surround yourself with people who will look out for you or bring you some joy over the holiday months.

Here are a few ways you can find community:

- Reconnect with your old friends; make an effort to reach out to connect with people you trust and like being around
- Join a religious organization; spend time in small groups, Bible studies, or help your local church plan Christmas events
- Join a social group, be it a sports club, affinity group, or hobbyist club
- Volunteer; the holidays is a great time to give back to the community while also connecting with people who are kind, altruistic, and will likely make excellent friends
- Host a meal for people who aren’t going home for the holidays; be proactive and set up a Facebook event to invite people or neighbors you know who may appreciate spending time with others over Thanksgiving and Christmas
- Join a planning committee for neighborhood holiday events to stay busy and in community.

3. Stick To A Holiday Budget

A huge stressor around the end of year is financial. Holiday shopping can be both fun and stressful, but if you’re buying for over a dozen family members, friends, and coworkers, the total can add up fast. Set a budget and stick to it. Look at your finances and the money you have coming in before the new year and divvy it up among your own holiday wants and needs and gift buying. We recommend a cash budget whenever possible; take out your gift budget in cash and divide it among your planned purchases. Sticking to a cash budget can be harder but seeing the physical cash deplete can make it easier to stay on track.

We also recommend You Need A Budget, a budgeting app that can help you stay on track. We also recommend a combination of homemade gifts, thrifting gifts, and starting a family gift exchange to cut down on the number of purchases you have to make.

4. Get Out Into Nature

Nature has a calming effect—embrace it. While it will likely be chilly outside, grab a jacket or two to stay warm and take walks during the holidays. This can help create healthy separation between you and your family so you can regain some perspective, clear your head, and calm down if needed. Sunrise and sunset walks are great for reflection but we also recommend taking short drives if that would help you enjoy nature and time alone better.

5. Keep Your Healthy Habits

The holidays are notorious for stealing away all our best habits. The same healthy eating, reading, exercising, and boundary-setting habits you spent all year working on can go out the door the moment we’re in a house full of family, activity, and food. Resist the urge to ditch your healthy habits, even if momentarily. Those are the habits that help you develop a stronger body and mind and keeping those habits can give you some control if you’re in an environment where you have none otherwise. So if you get 8 hours of sleep and normally wake up at 6am to read or exercise, keep doing that during the holidays. It’ll give you the chance to do something that serves your needs and will help you feel accomplished and balanced, even if you spend the rest of the day at the mercy of a crazy family schedule.

6. Set And Keep Good Boundaries

If saying no is hard for you, then we’re challenging you to do many hard things this holiday season. Learn to say no and say it often. Remember, not even your family members are entitled to your time, attention, or other resources. Family members can especially struggle to respect and honour your boundaries and they can take it for granted that you always give of your resources freely and joyfully. Let them know if there’s something you can’t or don’t want to do and stand your ground. Even if you have to repeat yourself, let your family know if there’s something you won’t budge on, just be sure to do so respectfully and gently. Setting boundaries takes months if not years of repetition so be patient with yourself and your family. Just don’t waver—if you waver once, they may challenge you to abandon your boundaries in the future.

Boundaries can be especially difficult over the holidays; stay in close communication with a friend or relative you know will understand your point of view and offer solace and encouragement when things get frustrating.

7. Learn To Accept Others’ Differences

The reality is, you may never be able to change that one aunt or uncle’s behavior. That can be frustrating, especially if someone’s behavior negatively impacts you or others. Often, the real frustration we feel in those circumstances comes because of a lack of control, not just the ways you’re negatively affected by someone else. As human beings, we often feel the most comfortable when we’re in control and can predict what will happen next. But if you can’t control someone else, it can be tempting to try.

We encourage you to maintain your boundaries with family and friends, but refrain from trying to control their behavior. Controlling others is both difficult and often leads to relational tension instead of healthy change. We also encourage you to accept people as they are. While difficult, it’s possible and healthy to accept someone as they are, while acknowledging and refusing to condone their hurtful behavior.

8. Manage Your Time Well

Overcommitting during the holidays is an easy way to burn out. If you live far from a lot of family and friends, you may find yourself driving a lot between friendsgiving dinners, family events, and parties. Be mindful of your physical and emotional capacity—driving around and attending a lot of events can put a strain on your body and finances. Additionally, it can be exhausting to be present emotionally when you have a lot planned.

As early as you could, start planning what you’ll say no to and what you’ll agree to attending. Yes, you may disappoint some people by not attending their events, but it’s important to protect your mind and body and ensure you’re not ending the year physically and emotionally depleted.

9. Keep Your Therapy Appointments (Or Start Going)

One of the best ways to maintain good mental health in a notoriously stressful season is to maintain your routines as much as possible. Counseling is the one part of your routine we encourage you to keep during the holidays. Counseling can give you a sense of normalcy during the busy holiday season and give you an opportunity to share how you’re feeling in real time. Your therapist can help you process your emotions and remind you of healthy coping mechanisms to help you stay balanced and happy throughout the holidays.

If you don’t have a counselor and have always wanted to try therapy, we highly recommend finding one! Reach out to family and friends who are in therapy to find a clinic or counseling office in your area. Scheduling an appointment before the holidays can give you an opportunity to build trust with your therapist and start opening up to them before potentially stressful family circumstances arise.

10. Keep A Gratitude Journal

According to NAMI, gratitude is shown to improve mental health. So if this isn’t part of your daily or weekly routine, the holidays is a good time to start journaling all the ways you’re grateful. Whether it’s on your phone or in a physical book, we encourage you to spend a few minutes every day making a note of the things and people you’re grateful for. Gratitude helps us remember the good things that are happening around us which can help get us out of a funk or gain fresh perspective. List all the things that have made you smile in the past day. Thank God for them and pray for the perseverance to thrive during the holidays.

Written by:
Davina Adcock

Davina is a native of Grenada and a graduate of The University of Texas at Austin. She's a content specialist with a passion for empowering women to thrive and reach their full potential. In her free time, Davina is probably painting, reading, or baking something unnecessarily sweet.

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