How to Get Through the Holidays With Your Mental Health Intact
It’s the most wonderful time of the year! Also? One of the most stressful. Your social schedule is packed, the gift-buying pressure is on, both money and time can be tight, and emotions and expectations are running high. There are a lot of reasons why — even for people who LOVE the season — the holidays can be tough on your mental and emotional well-being.
It’s completely normal to be mid-celebration and suddenly overwhelmed by feelings of loneliness, anxiety, or depression — but there are steps you can take to minimize or prevent this. We talked to Arielle Salama, a psychiatrist at St. Michael’s Hospital and Sherbourne Health Centre in Toronto, about what you can do to make sure that the holiday pressure doesn’t get to be too much to handle.
1. Pre-plan a holiday self-care routine. Taking care of ourselves is always the first thing to get cut from our schedules when it seems like there are a million other things that won’t get done unless we take them on. Thing is, it’s impossible to do anything well if you’re not feeling well.
“If you have important mental health maintaining activities in your life, such as exercise, therapy, addictions meetings, support groups,” says Salama, “make sure they remain a priority; it’s not the time to let them fall by the wayside.”
2. Feel good about saying no. When things get hectic, taking time off for yourself is not selfish; it’s self-preservation. “If you are invited to a lot of work, social, and family obligations and it’s all too much, don’t pressure yourself to attend everything,” Salama advises. “Think about how much social interaction [and] what kinds of events you can handle, and give yourself permission to RSVP ‘no’ on some of the less essential ones so that you can use the time to get some rest, exercise, or just take some needed time alone.”
3. Eat right. It is a quasi-scientific fact that a diet consisting solely of gingerbread and eggnog is okay for a very short period of time, but definitely not for the entire holiday season. Salama says it’s important to be sure you’re still getting the good stuff your body needs (in addition to the treats). “Even though you might be enjoying yourself with lots of great party food, don’t neglect eating healthy food on your own time — not for weight-related reasons, but to make sure you’re well-nourished.”
4. Be smart about alcohol. “There are a lot of opportunities to drink over the holidays, and it can make socializing seem easier, but will overall worsen anxiety and depression symptoms,” warns Salama. “Even in the short term, drinking heavily will take a physical toll on your energy and cognition, worsen panic symptoms, worries, sleep, and mood. Try to keep it moderate; consider in advance how many drinks you can comfortably have, and you’ll prevent yourself from going into darker places. Plus, if you are taking medications to manage mental health symptoms, alcohol can impair their effectiveness.”
5. Practice empathy. Keeping in mind the idea that the people around you might be experiencing the same kinds of holiday-related stress that you are will make it easier to avoid internalizing that moment when your well-meaning uncle advises you against that second helping of stuffing or your sibling forgets to thank you for stepping up to do their share of the holiday party preparations because they were too busy at work.
6. Know that you don’t have to be alone (unless you want to be). You may be perfectly content with your solo situation year-round, but when the holidays hit, being alone can sometimes feel lonely. Salama’s advice: “If you’re alone on the big holidays because you live far from your family, aren’t close with your family, or don’t have plans, [know that] more people are in your situation than you think. If you don’t want to be alone, reach out to some friends who may be in the same situation and make plans to do something low pressure. If you know you’re going to be on your own and won’t like that, considering planning a fun or self-care related activity — even on Christmas, there are things going on [like] yoga classes, movies, events, and volunteering.”
7. Keep mindfulness on your mind. Practicing mindfulness is one thing that you can start doing right now to mentally prepare for the holidays. “Be aware that you are going to be hard on yourself. Start working on mindfulness and non-judgmental thoughts to keep yourself together,” says Salama, who recommends downloading one of the many free mindfulness apps available for your phone.
8. Know where to turn for help. Need some extra support? Remember that it’s there for you. “If things get really tough,” she adds, “don’t hesitate to call a crisis line. They are always open!”
How do you make sure you stay healthy over the holiday season? Tell us about it on Twitter!
(Photos via Freestocks.org and Ander Burdain/Unsplash)