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Mental Health During the Holidays

3 Strategies to Improve Mental Health this Holiday Season

The holiday season can bring joy, laughter, peace, and amazing memories. It can also be a time of mourning, depression, stress, anxiety, and overwhelming busyness. Often, it's a combination of both positive and negative emotions and experiences throughout. Whatever your holiday plans look like, here are three strategies for helping safeguard your mental health during this season.

1. Prepare

As you prepare for the activities and full schedules of the holidays, use this time to also prepare yourself mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and even physically.

One way to begin working on managing stress and triggers is to start with some self-awareness. Awareness of your emotional/mental struggles as well as awareness of what helps you manage and get through those struggles is vital. You may know some of the stresses and triggers that you will be facing during the holidays, and some triggers may happen that you didn't anticipate. Either way, take some time to slow down and prepare yourself for what's to come.

  • Reinforce your coping techniques.

  • Set up trusted people in your life that can do check-ins on how you're doing/feeling.

  • Remind yourself of the things that bring you peace so that in the midst of chaos you can turn to and lean on them.

Begin to consider what parts of your usual routines help you find mental/emotional stability and determine if any of them will be disrupted during the holiday season so that you can create a back-up plan. If going to the gym regularly helps you manage stress, but you don't have as much time during the holidays to do so, consider alternatives that can help compensate or replace that routine. Perhaps consider doing an at-home shortened workout or take some short walks when you have some time. If family is in town, have them go with you on your walk or do a group activity that gets you moving. Find a healthy and effective alternative to your routines and create a plan to incorporate it into your busy schedule.

Routines are likely to be shifted and disrupted during the holiday season, so prepare yourself by recognizing what is most important to your health (physical/mental/emotional/spiritual). Start to plan for ways to meet those needs, even if they have to look a little different during this season.

2. Plan

Make practical and specific plans for managing your time, social capacity, mental capacity, and your overall health. Write it down. All of it. When busyness starts and stress builds, it can be hard to remember and implement the strategies you planned out but have them written down in a secure and easy-to-access place so that you can turn to them as needed and re-center yourself.

As you look ahead at your holiday plans, write down some potential triggers that you may face. Then write down strategies and methods of how you want to address those triggers. If all the socializing that typically comes with the holidays is likely to drain you and lead you to becoming stressed and triggered, write down your social commitments. Then, write a response plan such as waking up 10 minutes early every day for some quiet time alone, or consider removing some social engagements to help lower your stress/anxiety/exhaustion.

Plan your boundaries. Holidays are usually a time of lots of requests from family and friends. Requests for time with you, activities to do, things that need to be done. Write out all the plans and expectations others have of you during this time. Then, evaluate which things on that list are the most triggering down to the least. Decide which things you would like to cut, whether it's high or low on that list. Put in place boundaries with others that will help you honor those choices. If it brings more stress/anxiety to even consider saying no, consider a different boundary. Instead of saying no to a holiday party invite, consider creating a reason for only being able to attend for 30 minutes instead of the normal 2 hours that they might expect. If you're expected to do all of the cooking for Christmas Day, ask a few people to contribute, or think about pre-ordering something already made that can help take the load off of you.

If you feel comfortable with saying a full-on no, then do it (with kindness and respect), but if the thought of that causes more anxiety, create and put in place some new boundaries that you are more comfortable with. Saying no is great when you need it, but also don't feel ashamed for not wanting to say no because of pressure and stress, boundaries are not all or nothing, they exist more on a scale that you get to determine. Place your boundaries, and if they aren't respected or are ignored, maybe consider a stronger boundary. Do what helps you feel the least amount of stress/anxiety. Write down what your limits are, then honor them as best as you can.

3. Let Go

After you've done your prep and planning, it's time to just let go. Let go of any guilt or shame for when you don't get it just right. When you struggle to place a boundary or when you choose no boundaries at all, show yourself some grace. If you feel overwhelmed and respond more emotionally than you normally would during this season, be kind to yourself and let go of the pressure to be happy all the time. When you find yourself saying no to people or cancelling plans for your own health, let go of any guilt you have for putting yourself and your needs first.

Let go of the pressure to not be triggered or to not feel anxious. Allow yourself the freedom to feel, the freedom to take action, and the mercy for when you do it wrong. Ask for forgiveness if you unintentionally hurt others in your process of growth and health. Forgive others when they fail you or let you down when you ask for help or boundaries. Mental health is a continuous part of everyone's life, not just something that comes and goes when you feel stressed/anxious for a certain period of time. Use this season to grow in prioritizing your mental health as a practice that you can carry through every part of your life.

Perhaps the hardest strategy will be letting go, but if you manage to let go of even one small thing that is a burden and weighing you down, be that a responsibility, a trigger, a feeling of guilt, you are on the right path, and you can continue to build upon that growth. Be sure this holiday season to notice the times when you prioritize your mental health successfully. Any victories you experience during this time in your struggle with anxiety/stress, honor and remember them. This busy holiday season will pass, and I hope you find yourself growing and learning as you go through it. Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and Happy New Year!

*** Anything written in this blog is based on my own personal experience and not a professional opinion. If you or someone you know is struggling with any mental health issue, please speak to a professional. For a list of some mental health resources and contacts available to you, please download the file below. ***

Thank you so much for reading! If you found anything helpful in this post, please like and comment below! For even more blogs on mental health and travel, subscribe below to stay updated on all future posts. Follow us on Instagram and Facebook @mindonthepath. Happy reading!

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