As soon as the last piece of pumpkin pie has been eaten, I immediately begin my holiday preparations. I turn on my Christmas playlist, unpack my ugly sweaters, and begin my holiday baking. In previous years, I have filled my social calendar to the brim. I’m either going to a holiday party, attending a tree lighting, going shopping with a friend, or doing something else holiday-related. However, this increase in social events quickly leads to me acting like the Grinch. I become irritable, I am short with others, I do not follow through on many of my commitments, and I end up forgetting why I looked forward to December all year long.
While the holiday season can often leave us feeling full of hope, love, and gratitude, this so-called “most wonderful time of the year” also comes with significant stress and anxiety. The changes in routine, extra responsibilities and commitments (both social and financial), and pressure of spending time with family and friends leave many feeling overwhelmed. For those who are already struggling with mental health concerns, this time of year can lead to an increase in symptoms and feeling even more burned out than the average person.
I am here to tell you this does not have to be the case! The stress that is inherent to the holiday season can be managed and even minimized. You can partake in the festivities while also partaking in the self-care that is so crucial to our physical and emotional well-being.
If you do not have a self-care plan in place, I highly recommend that you create one and start practicing it now! We have plenty of tips on our Instagram page.
While there is no “one-size-fits-all” self-care plan, there is a common thread to all of them: making a commitment to attend to all the domains of your life, including your physical and psychological health, emotional and spiritual needs, and relationships.
Additionally, here are some other suggestions for taking care of yourself this holiday season:
- Be intentional. Decide what is most important for you to accomplish this holiday season and how you want to walk away from the season feeling. Then, go make it happen! If something does not feed your soul, give yourself permission to let it go. You are allowed to say no.
- Allow yourself to slow down and live in the present. Don’t become so wrapped up in planning the best holiday ever that you forget to appreciate the extra time you have to spend with loved ones. Write about 3 things each evening that you are grateful for from your day. This practice of gratitude can serve as a touchstone for remembering all the wonderful parts of this time of year and why you love it in the first place.
- Get those 6-9 hours. Try to stick to your usual sleep routine and get a full night’s sleep. It’s difficult to manage your stress when you are physically exhausted. Skip those restless naps, try not to eat more than 2 hours before bed, and cut back on caffeine.
- Eat well and exercise. So much of our mental health depends on how we nourish our bodies. Although you can indulge in the occasional holiday treat during your holiday parties, try to balance that with healthier meals throughout the week. Remember, this is not the only time of year when you can eat cookies (this is mostly a reminder for myself). Also, try to keep your exercise and movement routines as close to normal as possible.
- Schedule downtime in your calendar. Make sure to set aside time to stay in your pajamas and drink hot chocolate. Your schedule does not have to be full to be fulfilling.
- Set a budget and stick to it. Be realistic about what you can spend and do not defer from it. There is nothing more stressful than accumulating debt you were not expecting.
- Keep a journal. Make a list and check it twice. Track what you are eating, your exercise, what you have done and have left to do, and how you are feeling. Write about how you are taking care of yourself. This will help you to stick to your self-care plan by holding yourself accountable.
- Help others, help yourself. Helping others can help you feel better. Volunteer at a homeless shelter, write a letter to a friend about how much they mean to you, buy a present for a child in need, or visit people in nursing homes.
- Don’t compare. Try to avoid comparing the past with the present and enjoy this holiday season for what it is. Also, give yourself permission to do what feels right for you and not worry about what others are doing.
- Pace yourself and check in with yourself. If you begin to feel that anxiety creeping up, ask yourself what you need. Ask for help from a loved one if you need it. Take a day to relax. Spread out your commitments and make sure you are going to events you enjoy. Allow yourself to feel your feelings, both good and bad. There’s only one you. Be kind to yourself so you can be there for others.
This year, I am committing to a new approach to the holiday season. Let this be the year that we take care of our loved ones (including ourselves!) and learn how by tending to our own light, we will also be able to light up the world around us!
Though some people may experience “holiday blues” that pass with the season, others will have profound feelings of sadness or depression that do not go away over time.
Symptoms of depression include:
• Persistent sad, anxious, or empty mood
• Sleeping too much or too little, middle-of-the-night or early morning waking
• Reduced appetite and weight loss or increased appetite and weight gain
• Loss of interest or pleasure in activities, including sex
• Irritability or restlessness
• Difficulty thinking, concentrating, remembering or making decisions
• Fatigue or loss of energy
• Thoughts of death or suicide
• Feeling inappropriate guilt, hopelessness or worthlessness
you are experiencing these symptoms over a period of several weeks, you may be depressed. Talking with a mental health professional or taking a mental health screening test can help you understand how well you are coping with recent events. Seek help when needed.