5 Ways to Manage Mental Health During the Holidays

By Krishna Advani

“The most wonderful time of the year” isn’t so for everyone. If you’re someone who wrestles with mental health hurdles, then this time of the year can be especially intimidating for you. For some of us, the holidays are a time of nostalgia. We miss the people and things that aren’t around us. For some, it’s a continuous period of sensory overload, leading to heightened anxiety and stress. Some of us even prefer the quiet company of a pet over the raucous one of a lively party.

While the reasons for this inexplicable cloud of blues vary, here are some surefire ways to exercise self-compassion, maintain equilibrium and attempt to be as merry and bright on the inside. 

Manage Your Expectations
Tip: Offer yourself and those around you grace at every turn. It’s time we all understand that everyone’s only trying their best to balance ‘safety’ and ‘new normalcy’.

While the month of December is always a festive and magical time, this year might look different. And that’s okay. As we enter the third year of the life-altering COVID-19 pandemic, things are bound to be very different. Perhaps the idea isn’t to expect the same kind of magic, but to seek comfort in the fact that despite everything, here we are: capable of creating a little magic, no matter how small.

Tip: Offer yourself and those around you grace at every turn. It’s time we all understand that everyone’s only trying their best to balance ‘safety’ and ‘new normalcy’.

Retreat When You Need To
Mental Health During The Holidays:
There is nothing wrong with taking a step back when you feel overwhelmed. Do what you need to recharge.

There is nothing wrong with taking a step back when you feel overwhelmed. It can be stigmatizing when one is expected to be cheery and enthusiastic, when in fact, you don’t feel that way. You’re allowed to put your physical and mental well-being first, and make decisions that may not feel ‘fun’ in the now, but will pay off in the long run.

Tip: Try to surround yourself with people who may think along similar lines. Don’t force yourself to part-take in old traditions if they worsen your headspace. Give yourself permission to start new ones instead.

Monitor Your Moods
Mental Health During the Holidays: weekly journal prompts for mindfulness.

An effective way to even understand the triggers to your mental health. Keep a watchful eye out to understand how each aspect of the celebratory time impacts you, and draw your boundaries unabashedly. Stay in touch with how you’re feeling by practicing mindfulness. You can alter your whole mood by exiting the uncomfortable space, and creating a safe one.

Tip: Try your hand at activities that pull you into the present, or allow you to reflect. Something like journaling, coloring, or even going for walks and drives might do the trick. Once you’ve figured out an aspect that makes you happy, be sure to incorporate it into your day-to-day life.

Practice Gratitude
Mental Health during the holidays: a poem on anxiety and being enough.

“Count your blessings every day/ it makes the monsters go away.”
This line is more than just a lyric, it is in fact a very real and powerful tool to cope when we feel overwhelmed. Often, the holiday blues come from the fact that the year has ended, which makes some of us reflect on where we are and where we’re headed. Questions like these can make us feel extremely powerless and out of control. In such moments, take a breath and play a calming song to remind yourself of everything you are grateful for. 

Tip: Try a Gratitude List. It doesn’t have to be the big-picture stuff like weddings and promotions. It can be the taste of your coffee in the morning. The sound of your pet’s paws on the floor. The fragrance of your favorite candle. The feel of your favorite pair of jeans. Be obsessively grateful, and watch it dispel the darkness.

Reach Out To You
Mental Health During the Holidays: Hot Chocolate Breathing Technique

Maybe you’re feeling inauthentic when you celebrate because you’re still processing the grief and trauma the year brought with it. Maybe you’re stressed and confused because you don’t know whom to gift what, but don’t want to seem thoughtless. Perhaps you just don’t have the energy to participate in activities with the people around you, and it upsets you further. The first thing to do is tell yourself that this is perfectly normal. No one feels 100% at all times. You’re allowed to grieve, you’re allowed to draw your own boundaries. You are your own safe space. And since there’s no running from yourself, you may as well make it the place best suited to you.

Tip: Break the conditioning. Tell yourself that you are allowed to celebrate the way you deem fit. Too hurt to put up lights? Don’t put them up. Too tired for another party? Leave early to watch a movie in bed. Not feeling the merry spirit of gift-giving? Write notes instead.

We often forget that while the holidays are best celebrated with the people we love, they’re also a celebration that comes from within. And if you don’t feel up to it, there’s nothing wrong with retreating to let your mental health recover. Hey, if the Grinch could chill with his dog and relish every moment— you’re not above it either! So grab your coziest pajamas. We’re giving ourselves a tight hug this season.

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