Mental health struggles are present throughout the year. However, many people find it worsens during the holidays. According to a poll by the American Psychological Association, 38% of people reported that their stress increased during the holiday season, which can lead to physical illness, depression, anxiety, and even increase in usage of unhealthy substances.
The holidays can take a toll on us in many ways. Apart from increased stress, increased socialisation during the holidays may also lead to lack of rest, possible relational conflict, lowered self-esteem due to social comparisons and bring up feelings of grief and loss. We may also experience feeling overwhelmed in crowded stores, being stretched too thin by social obligations or feeling disappointed that you have none lined up.
The National Alliance on Mental Illness (United States) noted that 64% of individuals living with a mental illness felt that their conditions worsened around the holidays.
How to Mind your Mental Health this holiday season
With that in mind, there are many ways you can prepare yourself and safeguard your mental health this upcoming holiday season.
Recognise that you do not need to force yourself to be happy
Social media and mainstream media portrays the holidays to be a time of celebration and joy. However, our mental state may not always reflect that. If you do notice yourself feeling down, it is helpful to acknowledge that our feelings are not always joyful. Remember that you are not alone in feeling this way. You can start by giving yourself permission to feel your emotions, including commonly “bad” emotions such as anger, jealousy, or grief. Denying them or berating yourself for feeling bad tends to result in us feeling worse, instead of better.
Understand that triggers from holidays angst come from many sources
As mentioned earlier, the holidays can be a possible source of stress and triggers. Triggers are essentially people, places, and things that remind us of a past trauma or upsetting event. Memories, stressful patterns that seem to occur every holiday, or potential new crises are common triggers. Some examples of holiday triggers might be social anxiety, stressful family relationships and even unhealthy relationships with alcohol. One way to manage this is to prepare yourself by understanding how different triggers affect you. This can help you navigate the rest of the season by reducing commitments or situations which can bring about stress.
Practice self-compassion and gratitude
Did you know that we are more likely to be critical of ourselves when we feel down or ashamed? Excessive self-criticism is unhelpful to our well-being. One easy way to overcome this would be to practice self-compassion. This can look like us treating ourselves the way we treat a friend who is struggling. Just as how we wouldn’t put our friend down for feeling sad, it would not be nice to do it to ourselves too.
Another great way to boost well-being is through expressing gratitude, which tends to foster positive feelings. Gratitude is the awareness of the positive things that happen in our lives. The practice of gratitude is the expression of appreciation for what we have. Although being grateful does not remove the stresses and worries in our lives, it reminds us to look at the positive things we do have, and embrace the good in our lives! To build a habit of gratitude, we can start by writing a list of things we are grateful for that happened this year as well as offering thanks to the people around us who have been present and helpful to us. This can tie in nicely with the end of the year, which is a good time to reflect back on the year we’ve just had and start the new year on a positive note!
Spend time with yourself
Imagine yourself as a bucket. As we go about our life, stressful events pour in and fill our bucket. When we go through a particularly difficult time, our bucket will feel full and even that it’s overflowing. To prevent our buckets from feeling too full, we should learn to let out some of the stress. We can do so by engaging in positive coping strategies such as by setting aside time for ourselves and prioritising self-care. We could intentionally carve out time for activities that we enjoy and make ourselves feel good. This would differ from person to person so do not feel stressed if you do not find relaxation in common “feel good” activities. It might be reading a book, getting a massage, listening to music you love, or taking an evening walk. It’s beneficial for our mental health to prioritise time to recharge.
Setting boundaries is a form of self-care. We set boundaries with ourselves to provide ourselves structure and gain clarity on who we are, what we want and our values and belief system.
If you’re the type of person who wants to say yes to every commitment this holiday season, take a step back and think about what is a realistic expectation for yourself and put in boundaries to prevent from feeling overwhelmed.
Tips could include accepting your limitations and prioritising the most important activities. If you feel pressured by your peers, learn how to be comfortable with saying “no.” Making a day-to-day schedule helps ensure you don’t feel overwhelmed by everyday tasks and deadlines. It’s okay to say no to plans that don’t fit into your schedule or make you feel good.
Setting boundaries with family can be complex given the nature of family dynamics. Wanting to control circumstances beyond your control will likely cause anxiety and unnecessary stress. Identify these situations and the areas which are under your control. If you need to, find ways to limit your exposure.
“Setting boundaries with family can be complex given the nature of family dynamics”
Ask for help
As the year comes to a close, seize the opportunity to resolve unprocessed emotions and thoughts. Speaking to a mental health professional can help you identify and overcome past issues that you have been holding onto and equip yourself with tools to overcome these negative feelings. Sometimes our own efforts to improve our holiday-related stress or our emotional health around this time of year are not as effective as we had hoped. When this happens it’s important to give yourself permission to ask for help.
If unfinished tasks continue to cause stress, break it down into smaller tasks and tackle them one part at a time. Also it is ok to give yourself permission to let go of tasks or projects that are not important or urgent to you.
Lastly, as much as possible, let your loved one know how they can support you, such as doing a small activity together. Oftentimes, people want to help, but do not know where to begin or how to do so the way you need them to.
That sums up the top tips for you to mind your mental health this holiday. The pressure to gift the best present, host the best party can take away from the joy of the holiday. If you take away one thing from this, we hope that you remember to treat yourself with kindness amidst the hustle and bustle of the festivities.
To meet with a professional psychologist or counsellor, call The Other Clinic at 8809 0659 or email us email@example.com.