Mental Health and the Holidays: How to Manage Stress & Anxiety During the Holidays
Although so many people look forward to the parties and festivities that headline the holiday season, others might dread the holidays because of the toll the season takes on their mental health. A large amount of people who experience anxiety or depression find that all of the pressure attached to all of their obligations during the holiday season actually worsens their condition.
How to Manage Stress & Anxiety During the Holidays
The holidays are meant to give us all breaks from our lives and allow us to come together with our loved ones, but parties and gatherings can be stressful to plan and exhausting to keep attending. People must keep up with work parties, family parties and parties with friends. This could mean a lot of scheduling, planning and traveling. All this within a short time span can be extremely stressful, especially if someone worries about missing a party or if they have to host. Hosting a party is its own endeavor, and along with traveling and exchanging gifts, it can cause financial strain depending on someone’s situation. Gift giving also causes stress, as people worry about what to get their loved ones, how to afford the gifts or when they can shop without being overwhelmed by crowds. All of these tasks and responsibilities add up, and without being careful, someone could lose some of the control they have over their mental health.
Tips for Managing the Holiday Blues
The effects the holiday season has on people’s mental health may only last a couple months, but it is so important to address symptoms immediately. Luckily, there are several coping methods someone can use if they start feeling, what the National Alliance for Mental Illness (NAMI) calls, “the Holiday Blues.” Here are some ways to combat holiday stresses:
1. Try to stick to your routine. When you keep a schedule and have a plan for each day, it can alleviate stress.
- Having a routine is beneficial for children. Their physical health is just as important as staying healthy mentally, so it’s important that children stick to regular meal times and sleep schedules. This way, their bodies maintain their normal homeostasis, and they can be calmer with less outbursts brought on by anxiety.
- It also helps adults to keep their internal clocks steady and predictable, but most of all, when people can stay on top of their schedules, they eliminate a lot of stress. A lot of holiday stress comes from last-minute shopping or party preparations, which is eliminated when the person can manage their schedule well.
2. Keep up with your therapy appointments.
- It might make your schedule feel a bit lighter, but cancelling therapy appointments could cause long term problems. People seeing any kind of doctor should continue making appointments a top priority.
- On their website, NAMI emphasizes the importance of going to therapy through a stressful time. People need their therapists most during a busy holiday season, especially since the lack of sunlight in places with colder winters often trigger depressive episodes.
3. Plan ahead and keep a calendar. This season, there are typically a lot of events in a short amount of time. It’s easy to lose track of some.
- Careful planning can save stress later on. Having everything on your calendar, where it should be clearly visible, will give you a clearer picture in your memory of when your holiday plans all take place. That way, you eliminate last minute worries about possibly forgetting something.
- If you are hosting a holiday party, remember to plan the menu, shopping lists and any kind of prep time. Remember to find help and time for setting up before, and cleaning up after the party.
4. Set new goals with realistic expectations. Your goals should be achievable so you can use it as a stepping stone to the next goal you set.
- Self-reflection can cause stress and anxiety. Being too critical of ourselves hurts our mental health. By setting goals that are unrealistic, you only set yourself up for failure and unneeded criticism.
- Be sure to make New Year’s resolutions realistic too. If you pick something that causes you to make too big of a leap, it may hang over your head for the year. Instead, find something you’ve already been working to improve and aim to take the next step. You should be able to envision the steps to achieve your resolution fitting within a twelve month plan.
- Even when you fail, focus on everything you did accomplish. Failure can be made into a positive too. Using your experience from trying to achieve a goal, you can make a wiser plan for your next attempt.
5. Do not be afraid to say, “NO.” Your own mental and physical health comes before any family obligations, holiday parties or any other festivities.
- You are not disappointing anyone if you can’t make it to their party. The holiday season is busy and people are not holding you to the same expectations that you might be thinking.
- It is perfectly fine to decline invitations, even if you do not have anywhere to be. Sometimes, you might need a night to take a breather and regain your composure. Do something for yourself, and you will hopefully be recharged by the time your next obligation rolls around.
6. Remember to keep up with healthy habits. The holiday season provides numerous tests for our fitness and dietary health, and it is important to avoid overindulging in sweets or using different substances as a coping mechanism.
- When people struggling to manage their mental health feel overwhelmed, one of the coping mechanisms they are in danger of falling on is substance abuse. People in mental distress might crave drugs or alcohol as an attempt to correct the body chemistry imbalances caused by anxiety and depression, but in the long run, self-treatment with these substances can have more significant, long-term consequences. The short term outlook is not pleasant either, as many substances like alcohol enhance depressive episodes.
- Sugar is another substance to avoid because of how many sweets are readily available throughout the holiday season. Cookies and candy are not bad by themselves, but constantly filling up on sweets can be bad. Especially if you find yourself eating less food during actual meals. Your body needs a balanced diet more than ever in stressful times, so it is important you keep giving it the nutrients it needs.
- Sleep is always a key proponent to mental health. You should make sure you are well-rested and not sacrificing sleep for any holiday obligations.
- It is also important not to overlook physical activity during the winter. If you live in a region with cold winters, it is already hard to get sunlight some days. Plus, the cold makes it tempting to stay inside all day. Whether it be a trip to the gym or a mid-day walk, you should try to get some physical activity in. Your body will start pumping out endorphins, and you can feel better naturally.
7. Create a budget and stick with it. Finances are a huge source of stress, so plan to keep yourself out of financial hardship.
- Try to be creative with gifts. Giving someone a homemade gifts is an excellent option that saves money, because the value of a homemade gift is determined by the thoughtfulness put into it.
- A pollyanna or gift exchange limits the amount of people you will be responsible for buying a gift for, and there are often surprises and games associated with gift exchanges.
- If you host your own holiday party, you could suggest a potluck to save you money and stress.
8. Set some time aside for yourself.
- Take some time, maybe a little each day, to do something that helps you reduce stress. Mindfulness is one option, but no matter what works, you should aim to control your breathing and slow thoughts down.
- Think of an activity, like reading or taking a walk, that helps you calm down.
9. Soak in all your highlights during the holiday season. As stressful as the holidays can be, the quality time spent with friends and family can help keep your spirits up.
- No matter what your stress level throughout the season, you need to make sure you have a chance to enjoy your favorite parts of the holidays.
- Being around loved ones keeps you healthy and active. You can take the kids sledding, have friends over for dinner or drive the family around to admire the lights all over neighbors’ houses.
There are plenty of resources and tips for surviving the Holiday Blues, but this battle should not have to be fought alone. Aspire Child & Family Services can help support you through the holiday season and help prepare you for seasons to come. Individual therapy can help someone effectively implement these tips listed above into their lives. It is designed to help people plan and strategize for their specific life obstacles. A therapist using individual therapy can help talk through possible solutions to difficult feelings. A new perspective on the Holiday Blues could alleviate some built-up stress.
The holiday season is meant to bring families closer together and spread cheer during the harsh winter months. Enjoying the season is nearly impossible when you spend it battling anxiety and depression internally. Instead of trying to fend off the Holiday Blues by yourself, seek professional help at Aspire Child & Family Services, so you can go back to enjoying your favorite holiday traditions. Pressure from different family functions or other engagements should not dominate the season, and individual therapy can help put this in perspective while teaching you strategies for managing stress.