Let’s get serious about preserving mental well-being during the holidays.
It’s easy to picture the holiday season as an idyllic time when loving family and friends come together around a perfectly cooked meal, a tasteful decorative display, or a pile of thoughtful, beautifully-wrapped gifts against a pristine snowy backdrop.
At least, that’s what it looks like on greeting cards and at the end of any number of holiday movies.
But for many people, the reality looks much different. And even people who get that picture-perfect moment may experience a lot of trouble and aggravation getting there that isn’t visible to outsiders.
Holidays can be hard, and the pressure to make them perfect and memorable and beautiful doesn’t help any. It’s no wonder that many people experience extra mental health stresses during this season.
Take a look at some tips to help protect your own mental well-being during the holidays.
1. Set Boundaries and Enforce Them
Does your family stress you out? You’re not the only one.
Family problems that run the gamut from minor annoyances to full-blown abusive behavior can all be amplified during the holidays because everyone is under additional stress.
On top of that, people often feel obligated to spend holiday time with family members who they don’t often see – or even actively avoid – during the rest of the year. Being in close proximity to people who make you feel anxious, angry, sad, or afraid is definitely not good for your mental well-being.
You can save yourself some difficulty by setting boundaries and enforcing them.
Does spending a week in your childhood home sound like entirely too much? It’s OK to stay for only three days instead. It’s also OK to rent a hotel room so that you can show up only for the activities you want to attend and have a peaceful place to get away from everyone when you need it.
Do you have relatives across the country expecting you to visit all of their homes during your winter vacation? It’s fine to narrow it down to one or two destinations and tell everyone else that you’ll catch them another time.
It’s also fine to skip family gatherings entirely if that’s what’s best for you.
Many people do want to connect with family during the holiday season, even if they know there will be some annoyances or uncomfortable moments. But for some people, these holiday events are not just inconvenient or mildly annoying, they can be outright destructive.
You are not obligated to take part in family reunions just because it’s a holiday, especially if it’s going to cause you mental, emotional, or physical harm.
It is fine to do something else instead:
- Attend a Friendsgiving,
- Find a restaurant serving holiday meals and take yourself out to eat,
- Volunteer at a homeless shelter or domestic violence shelter,
- Go to church, if that’s what will bring you peace, or
- Just stay home with a good book or a favorite movie.
Whatever makes you comfortable and happy.
You’re not required to sacrifice your own mental well-being for anyone else.
2. Create a Budget
If it’s not other people that stress you out during the holiday season, there’s a good chance that money is what’s stressing you out.
Holiday celebrations can get expensive, whether it’s because you’re buying enough food to feed an entire extended family because you’re buying tons of expensive decorations because you’re buying presents for many different people, or because you’re buying very expensive presents for just a few people.
Or it could be any combination of these factors.
Spending a lot of money is another one of those things that happen so often during the holidays that you may come to think of it as unavoidable.
But it is avoidable, and you do not have to go into debt or otherwise hurt yourself financially to have a good holiday or to ensure that the people around you have a good holiday.
Set a budget before the holiday rush really sets in. Figure out how much money you can afford to spend celebrating, traveling, feeding people, and buying presents. And stick to that amount.
Yes, that may be easier said than done, but you’ll avoid both financial stress and feelings of guilt about spending too much if you can stick to it.
Get creative and start new traditions if you have to. You could talk to friends and family about setting up a secret Santa instead of having everyone buy gifts for everyone else – this can allow you to buy presents for only one or two people instead of dozens. Or institute a reasonable monetary limit for gifts — $20 or less, for example.
Remember that gifts don’t necessarily have to cost a lot of money, either. You might be surprised how happy a child will be with a coupon they can cash in for a movie of their choice with Mom or an hour of playing video games with Dad.
You can use the same concept with teenagers and adults, just adjusted for the things they like. Your teen might be thrilled with a coupon for an extended curfew on the non-school-night of their choice, and your significant other might enjoy being able to cash in a certificate for breakfast in bed or a lengthy massage.
Remember, experiences can make great gifts too.
3. Maintain Some Type of Routine
Many people find that their normal exercise routine goes out of the window during the holidays. Sleeping schedules and mealtimes also get disrupted.
On top of that, you might find yourself overindulging in ways that you normally don’t, whether that means drinking more alcohol or eating more sweets, or something else. It’s no wonder that many people start to feel overwhelmed and out of control during the holidays.
It’s probably impossible to maintain your usual routine exactly during the holidays, but make sure that you at least maintain the most important elements of it:
- Make time for at least some exercise,
- Try to go to bed around the same time as you normally do,
- Eat at around the same times that you normally do, and don’t overdo it – save that second helping for your next meal,
- Show restraint when it comes to alcohol too – a hangover won’t do anything to lessen your stress.
The holidays are a busy time, and you’re likely to experience some stress no matter what you do, but you don’t have to let holiday stress destroy your mental well-being.
The most important thing you can do is be honest with yourself about what you can and can’t handle and respect your own needs and limitations.
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