Managing Mental Health During the Holidays

The holiday season is meant to be a time of joy, celebration and for spending time with those we love.
Managing Mental Health During the Holidays

The holiday season is meant to be a time of joy, celebration and for spending time with those we love. However, the festivities come with high expectations of perfection that many of us struggle to live up to. Many people experience feelings of isolation, financial strain or increased family conflict that can make this a very stressful time of year – and it’s even harder for those of us with poor mental health.

CMHA Kelowna suggests that some of the best ways to deal with added stress around the holiday season are common sense strategies. The key is to keep things simple, focus on what is important to you and, most importantly, remember to make your mental health a priority.

Tips for Holiday Peace of Mind:

  1. Remember what the holiday season is about for you. Make that your priority. This season is really about sharing, loving and time spent with family and loved ones. Develop your own meaningful family traditions that don’t have to cost a lot of money. Also, remember not to take things too seriously. Fun or silly things to do, games or movies that make you laugh, playing with pets, and time alone or with a partner are all good ways to reduce stress. Use this time of year to help regain perspective.
  2. Check in with your emotions. It is completely normal to be feeling a bit more emotional, this time of year – particularly with everything that is impacting our lives at home and around the world. Take some time to take stock of your emotions – whether that is sadness, anxiety, fear or loneliness – and then begin to address them in whatever way is most productive for you, such as journaling, talking to a loved one, finding an online group, or just spending some quiet time alone thinking (that isn’t when you’re trying to fall asleep). Researchers in the US found that people who identified their emotions and took steps to process them reported lower stress levels than those who avoided identifying their emotions. Don’t try to push past or ignore them no matter how uncomfortable they may be.
  3. Plan ahead, organize, delegate. If you’re entertaining, use the “keep it simple” strategy. Make a list and check it twice. Decorate, cook, shop, or do whatever’s on your list in advance. Rather than one person making all the preparations, invite your guest to bring a dish. Kids can help with the menu too not to mention gift-wrapping, and decorating. Then you can really relax and enjoy visiting friends, relatives and coworkers.
  4. Beware of overindulgence. Having a few too many glasses of eggnog or holiday spirits can initially lift your mood but then drop you lower than before. Also, too many sweets will probably make you feel lethargic and tired. Simple things like eating well, exercising regularly and getting a good night’s sleep are ways to maintain holiday peace of mind and the winter blues.
  5. Stay within budget. Finances can be a huge source of stress for many people, especially during the holidays, and likely this year more so than others. Try putting family members and partners’ names in a hat and buy one gift for the person you draw; this can help reduce expenses and refocus energies on thoughtfulness, creativity and truly personal gifts. Encourage children to make gifts for friends and relatives so the focus is on giving rather than buying. Try to eliminate the unnecessary and stay within your budget. A call, a visit or a note to tell someone how important they are to you can be as touching as and more meaningful than a gift. You can also enjoy free activities like walking or driving around to look at holiday decorations, going window shopping, or making your own decorations or presents. Craigslist and swap events are great places to find inexpensive brand-new items, and excellent-condition used items (which is good for the environment too).
  6. Connection is key. Invite others. If you have few family or friends, reach out to neighbours. Find ways to spend the holidays with other people. If you’re part of a family gathering, invite someone you know is alone to your gathering. We all understand how feelings of connection and belonging are so strongly tied to our mental health. This time of year is the perfect time to reconnect with your network. Also, if you know that someone will be alone – invite them to take part. This will help you and them to feel better.
  7. Remember the weather doesn’t help. Some people get the winter blues each year, and a much smaller number (2-3%) develop Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Paying attention to nutrition, exercise and sleep and being careful with alcohol are also important if you have a history of depression. If your low mood carries on into the New Year and starts to affect your daily life, you should see your family doctor. There are free skills and coaching available to help overcome low mood or mild to moderate depression. If you think you need help, during the holiday season or anytime of the year – click here for some resources.
  8. Learn stress-busting skills you can use year-round. If the holidays often get you down, you may struggle with stress, low mood and worry at other times of year. CMHA Kelowna’s Discovery College is for anyone and everyone who wants to gain the confidence to face life’s challenges. Our courses are created to support your well-being through learning. Each course is developed and delivered in collaboration with people who have knowledge and personal experience in each topic area. This means, at Discovery College you will experience an empowering learning environment where genuine people share knowledge and practical tools.

More Tips—Dealing with Holiday Grief

The holiday season can be especially rough for those of us who’ve lost someone close recently or who lost someone close at this time of the year. With all the messages of family togetherness and joy, the emptiness left behind when someone passes away is in harsh contrast to what society seems to “expect” us to feel. Below are some extra tips to help you or someone you know get through a potentially hard time:

  1. Talking about the deceased person is okay. Your stress will only increase if the deceased person’s memory is allowed to become a landmine that everyone tiptoes around.
  2. Things won’t be the same. It’s normal to feel at odds with yourself and family events when dealing with grief. Try not to hide away, but don’t feel guilty about setting limits on how many events you will attend.
  3. Don’t let other people’s expectations dictate how your holiday will unfold. If you don’t feel like doing something this holiday season, don’t let others force you. If you do want to attend holiday functions, make sure you know your limits. Leave early, arrive late, drive alone—do whatever you need to do to help yourself.
  4. Take care of yourself and seek support. Stress, depression and bodily neglect are not a great mix at any time of the year. Don’t forget to practice self-care and talk to your friends and family about how you feel. Also, many communities offer support groups for people who are grieving. Being around people who know what you’re going through can be very comforting.
  5. Think about building some new traditions. Remember that it’s okay not to do what you traditionally do. Planning something totally different is not an insult to the memory of a loved one, and can be a positive way to ease some of the pressure. That said, one of the traditions may include planning a special time to celebrate the memories of the person who died. Some families develop creative rituals like decorating a miniature Christmas tree at the cemetery, donating money to a charity like CMHA, singing their favourite seasonal song, reciting a special prayer before the evening meal, or even just lighting a candle. Symbolic gestures like these can help families validate their feelings of sadness and overcome the guilt of enjoying special occasions.

What Really Works?

With the holiday season fast approaching, we can begin to experience the pressure of festive expectations. To help cope, please check out What Really Works? A mental health podcast for young people. In Episode 14, hosts Beki and Olivia chat about why the holiday season can be stressful and filled with tough emotions, especially this time of year. From grief to hardships, to our personal expectations of festivities, you’ll hear not only validation of why this time of the year can be difficult for some, but also what tools we can use to support ourselves.

Whether you’re excited about the festive season of feeling apprehensive about it, this episode will provide you with some great knowledge and techniques!

Mental Health and the Holiday Season Podcast