The holiday season is here, and with it can come lots of emotions. You might feel joy, excitement, overwhelm, anxiety, anticipation, dread, or something else entirely. This time of year can also be tough to deal with from a mental health perspective. The days are shorter, which can make things harder for folks with Seasonal Affective Disorder. It’s also a time when there’s a lot going on. You probably have more social obligations than usual this month. The holidays can also be a profoundly lonely time for people. For folks who aren’t close with their families or who have experienced loss, the holiday season can be a painful reminder of relationships that aren’t there.
Holidays tend to be high-pressure situations. A lot of us have high expectations for how the holidays should go, especially since the pandemic has kept many families apart. There may be pressure to follow family traditions at this time of year, which can be tense sometimes. Many families have experienced great loss in the last two years, and the prospect of gathering after losing a loved one might feel impossible.
No matter how you’re feeling going into this holiday season, you deserve to take some time to take care of your mental health. It’s easier to deal with high-pressure situations when you’re not feeling burned out or on edge yourself. Taking care of your mental health can actually be a great way to prioritize self-care at a time when you feel the need to people please. It can also give you built-in time to rest and rejuvenate, which is often sorely needed at the end of the year.
If you’re wondering how to take care of your mental health this holiday season, here are 5 of our favorite ways:
Reconsider your expectations
Having high expectations of how something will go can add a lot of mental pressure. We all have an idea in our heads of the “perfect” holiday, but perfect doesn’t exist. Things will never be 100% ideal, so expecting them to be is just setting yourself up for disappointment. Try to adjust your expectations of what the holiday season means for you. Instead of feeling pressure to have drama-free interactions, decadent meals, and cool gifts ready, you can let the holidays just be what they are.
Set boundaries as necessary
Lots of people think of boundaries as a punishment or a bad thing. However, boundaries are actually a key part of maintaining relationships over a long period of time. Setting boundaries enables you to keep the relationship functioning for everyone involved, instead of letting resentment or frustration build up over time. If you need to set some boundaries about how you’ll be spoken to, how you’ll spend your time, or your personal limits (or something else!) that’s totally within your right to do so.
Don’t be afraid to ask for alone time
Being around a bunch of other people can be exhausting in the best of times, but especially so after two years of semi-isolation. It’s okay to let your loved ones know that you need space. If you’re worried your family will be offended, remember that it’s not your job to manage anyone else’s emotions. You are in charge of your emotions, and no one else’s. If you’re having a hard time finding alone time, try offering to run an errand or walk someone’s dog just to get out of the house.
Make a plan ahead of time for the tough moments
When you’re in distress, it can be hard to figure out what the next step is. Even if you understand something logically when you’re not in a distressed state when you’re activated emotionally that logic can fly right out the window. To prepare for this, you can sit down ahead of time and jot down some coping strategies for when you’re in distress. You can keep the list in your journal, in a note on your phone, on notecards, or anywhere you’ll think to look when you’re upset. This way you don’t have to use extra brain power to decide what to do – you can just reach for your list and start trying the different strategies to calm yourself down.
Have a trusted person outside of your holiday celebrations you can vent to
Sometimes it’s hard to deal with the complexities of family dynamics without having someone to talk it over with. The loved ones you’re spending time with at the holidays might be too close to the situation to give you unbiased advice, but a trusted friend or a family member who isn’t there might be able to help support you. Talking things over with someone else can be a helpful way to organize your thoughts, blow off steam and air your frustrations, and be reminded that there are people out there who love you and support you no matter what.
If you’re worried about how to cope with the holidays this year, talking about it with a therapist can help you figure out how you want to approach the situation and how you’ll cope when things get tough. If you’re interested in working with a therapist, get in touch with our office today.