From festively decorating your home to gathering with friends and family, the winter holidays can be a source of joy and connection for many. On the flip side, however, holidays can also be a time of major of stress — and for some women, this time of year can contribute to more serious mental health concerns, like increased anxiety or even holiday depression. In one 2015 survey, 62 percent of respondents described their holiday stress level as “very or somewhat elevated,” while only 10 percent said they weren’t stressed at all during the holidays.
Though a little bit of stress is normal as you gear up for a busy time, troublesome emotions don’t have to get the best of you. So what’s the best way to protect yourself during a potentially anxiety-producing time of year? Consider the following expert-approved ideas for proactively guarding your mental health this holiday season.
1. Prioritize self-care. Though busy schedules around the holidays might make things a little more chaotic than usual, sticking to your normal self-care routine as much as possible can benefit you both mentally and physically. “Don’t let the holidays be an excuse for missing your morning exercise routine or getting a good night’s rest. With the additional stress from holiday chaos, self-care is more important than ever,” says social worker and therapist Rita Milios.
2. Everything in moderation. The holiday season promotes excess eating, spending, and socializing, all of which can cause or contribute to holiday stress. Milios recommends remaining consistent in your non-holiday daily habits during the coming season and practicing moderation in all you do — including deferring to the expectations of others.
3. Reframe your attitude about winter. If the cold, dark days of winter give you the blues, practicing mindfulness and being intentional in planning motivating activities can be helpful. “Even if you’re not a fan of winter, choose to view this time of year through a more positive lens to reduce holiday blues,” Milios says. “Consider working on tasks you may have been putting off to work on in the spring and summer, such as reorganizing your closet or garage.”
4. Practice saying no. The constant bustle of the holidays, from office parties to family get-togethers, can take a noticeable physical and mental toll. Take some time before things get busy to think about what you can manage, and try to say no to the activities that aren’t absolutely necessary. When you have ample time to rest and invest in yourself, you’ll have more to offer — and have more fun — at the activities and events you do choose to engage in.
5. Continue the sentiment of gift-giving. While spending money on gifts can be a definite strain on both your pocketbook and your mental health, reframing how you view the act of giving can be empowering for you and those at the receiving end of your generosity. Milios says it could help to engage in a “pay-it-forward” attitude in your daily life by giving gifts of assistance (helping out a neighbor), time (spending the afternoon with a young relative), or sharing (serving food at a local homeless shelter). “Such gift-giving can boost your mood and mental wellness for you and those who receive your gifts, and costs nothing,” she says.
6. Take time to go deep. With crazy schedules and stressful to-do lists, it’s easy to gloss over the deeper meaning behind the holiday season. Whether you choose to go to a religious gathering or simply spend some quiet time at home journaling about what you’re grateful for, finding meaningful ways to connect with yourself and others can be a great reminder of why we celebrate the holidays in the first place.
7. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. If winter or the holiday season are taking such an emotional toll on you that your loved ones are noticing, it may be time to seek outside help from a therapist or a doctor. Other red flags for mental health concerns include feeling persistently sad, sleep disruption, feeling hopeless, and being unable to do routine chores.
What’s your favorite way to take care of yourself during the holiday season? Tell us your traditions @BritandCo!