According to a Healthline survey, over 60 percent of the respondents declared they experience some level of stress during the holidays. The most wonderful time of the year comes with joy, cheer, traditions, gifts, and family gatherings but it also brings high expectations, disappointment, anxiety, and sadness. 755 respondents to a NAMI survey said they feel sad during the holiday season, 66% reported feeling lonely, 63% complained about the amount of pressure they have to endure, and 68% of the respondents experienced financial pressures. Add to this the feelings of stress and fear caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, lockdown, and isolation, and you can understand why one might need to plan strategically for the holidays to maintain their mental health.
Stay safe in the context of the COVID-19 crisis
Before immersing ourselves in the ocean of feelings and thoughts we tend to experience during the holidays, we need to take into account the COVID-19 crisis. If last year, spending time with family during the holidays proved to be challenging and, for some, impossible, this year, holiday gatherings are possible, but only if certain guidelines are to be respected. Following the CDC guidelines can help you reduce the risk of infection to a minimum and protect the health of your family and friends. Try to limit the number of people and households invited to the reunions and avoid the gatherings if you feel sick or if you are in a high-risk group. Remember that the lockdown and isolation have been tough on everybody, so don’t expect everything to be just like it was before the pandemic. And if your family can’t come this year, find new ways to connect: video calls, emails, texts. Companionship is valuable, especially during the holidays, regardless of the shape it takes.
Be patient and kind to others and yourself
The pandemic has only augmented the stress we usually feel during the holiday season, so extra kindness and patience will go a long way this year. Holiday plans can add a tremendous amount of stress to our daily lives in our effort to throw the perfect holiday gatherings. Between work, family obligations, cooking, and holiday gift shopping, it is no surprise that many of us tend to lose sight of what the holidays are really about – an occasion to slow down a bit, be thankful for everything we have, and show kindness and generosity both to others and ourselves. Take the time to pause everything and focus on what matters: your mental health. Be mindful about your emotions, talk to your therapist when everything seems too much, attend a yoga class or practice any other activity that makes you feel good. This will help you slow down your pace and find a way to engage with others in a more meaningful and kinder way. Volunteering or spending time with the less fortunate can have a great impact on their mental health and your well-being.
Accept your family dynamics
No matter how hard we try to stop it, drama always seems to find a way into our holiday gatherings. And that’s natural and to be expected. Family dynamics are diverse, and bringing together different personalities can at times trigger various conflicts even in a context as cheerful as the holiday season. Try not to idealize your family or the holidays and be realistic about what you can expect from the reunion. Remember that Christmas commercials and movies are fictional tales, and reality often comes with different types of struggles. Do not spend too much time trying to find the perfect gift for everybody, since we all know this is impossible anyway, and accept that complete and utter peace may not be easily achievable. Set aside any grievances you might have with your family for another time and be understanding of others. Life comes with changes and you should focus only on what you want and can handle during this holiday season.
Plan ahead and prioritize your time
Do your best to avoid having to rush to complete your holiday activities. Prioritize your time and carefully plan tasks and deadlines. Set aside a few days for gift shopping, plan a day or two to cook, put some time aside for connecting with friends, and learn how to delegate. You don’t have to do everything yourself. The holiday season is a busy time for many, but if you have a set plan and people around to help you, you can avoid additional stress, and you will soon discover that this season can also be a joyous time. Don’t feel like you have to attend all the parties or that you have to reconnect with everyone you know. Be selective about the people you choose to spend your time with during the holidays and find the strength to refuse invitations. This will help you set aside more time for self-care, relaxation, and your loved ones.
Do not forget about your healthy habits
The holiday season may be a time of relaxation and indulgence, but it is often accompanied by excess in all shapes and sizes. Do not abandon the healthy habits you have adhered to over the year, like healthy meals, regular exercise, and limited alcohol consumption. Many people who experience a great deal of stress or who succumb to the feeling of loneliness during the holidays turn to alcohol or drugs to silence their pain and disappointment. However, this behavior can trigger an anxiety disorder, depression, or substance abuse. You need to learn how to manage your emotions in a healthy way. Whether you practice mindfulness techniques or you spend more time outside, enjoying the healing effect of natural light and fresh air, you will find it easier to take control of your emotions and invite a feeling of calm and peacefulness into your life. Do not bottle up your emotions, have a self-care plan in place, and talk to a mental health professional or someone you trust about your emotional rollercoaster.