4 Mental Health Tips for the Holiday Season

"It's the most wonderful time of the year . . ."

So says Andy Williams in the time-honored Christmas tune. And while it can be a truly magical season, the reality is that the wonder of the holidays is overshadowed by a variety of mental health challenges for many folks.

The "merry and bright" the season promises often translates into an overflowing social calendar and a slew of workplace deadlines, which combine to form a mountain of stress. In fact, the American Psychological Association notes that 38% of people surveyed said their stress increased during the holiday season. The reasons given included time constraints, financial pressures, gift-giving concerns, and family gatherings, in addition to the ordinary worries, hassles, and tension that are part of everyday life.

For those who've lost loved ones, the holidays can be a time of deep grieving and sadness. Cold, overcast days cause others to experience depression and anxiety. And knowing that this season is supposed to be filled with "tidings of comfort and joy" only intensifies the negative feelings and further assaults a person's overall mental health.

The best defense against this seasonal battering of our emotions and mental health is a proactive offense that incorporates these four strategies.

1. Begin by acknowledging where you are emotionally and mentally.

Maybe you've lost a loved one, have experienced a job loss, suffered a family crisis, or your workload/schedule has become exceptionally challenging. Any number of significant traumas may have resulted in a scenario rife with stress, sadness, or grief that holiday cheer cannot wave away. Don't try to stuff the situation or your feelings about it under the rug because it's the holidays, and everyone expects you to be jolly. Allow yourself to cry, to grieve, to face the situation. And then—

2. Put your own mental and physical well-being first. 

Recognize what may trigger additional stress. Permit yourself to do less, to skip something. Several somethings, if necessary. Is the thought of holiday shopping more than you can bear? Enlist the help of family and friends. And the decorating and baking and Christmas cards? Now's the time to prioritize and make some tough decisions. Ten dozen cookies instead of twenty. Store-bought instead of handmade cards. Choose to put up only your favorite decorations.

3. Manage your time and energy with a schedule.

Again, prioritize, giving precious calendar space only to those activities you and your family enjoy the most. Remind yourself that cramming in extra "stuff" is more likely to make you feel overwhelmed than it is to make your holidays more enjoyable. Remember, it's completely okay to say no.

4. Be realistic and reign in your expectations. 

Banish thoughts of perfection or a repeat of a past picture-perfect holiday. While we love our rituals and traditions, the challenges of these past almost two years have reminded us of what is truly important. So, be mindful of your current circumstances and then be willing to make the kind of thoughtful choices that will ensure both a happy and healthy holiday season. Choose to accept whatever altered plans are necessary to accommodate the reality of this time and place. Adjusted expectations can indeed make all the difference.

With some planning and implementation of these strategies, you can find joy in the holiday season. We extend a heartfelt wish for a blessed holiday season from our team to you and yours.

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