The holidays can be rough on our mental health. For those with a mental illness, it can be even harder. During the holidays, stressors often come from all different angles, making it even tougher to manage your mental health.
“The holiday season is a time of assumptions and expectations that take their toll on everyone,” says ACT Team Lead Chris, “but is especially hard on those with pre-existing vulnerabilities.”
This year will be especially difficult with the added stress of COVID-19, so it’s likely that the holidays may take a greater toll on your mental health. If you find yourself experiencing increased levels of stress, that’s totally normal and to be expected. Instead of launching into a negative spiral or criticizing yourself, remind yourself that this is normal. Take simple steps to prioritize your wellbeing like getting enough sleep, moving your body, and setting boundaries that you feel comfortable with.
Pay Attention to Your Health
With all the distractions, you may find yourself ignoring your health in favor of getting things done. Unfortunately, this can come back to haunt you! Don’t ignore obvious signs that you need a break. If you feel frustrated, sad, or abnormal, take some time to think about what you’re feeling and why. Is there anything you need to adjust in your daily routine? Any habits you need to re-evaluate? Any goals you need to re-think?
Listen to your mind and your body. If you see signs you’re pushing yourself too far, take a break, take a breath, and reflect.
Set Reasonable Expectations
“There are a lot of expectations related to the holiday season that can lead to stress levels skyrocketing, which we know is a trigger of mental health-related symptoms,” says Chris.
It’s easy to get a rosy view of the holiday season. We can have a lot of things we want to accomplish, people we want to see, and activities we want to do. It can be easy to have high expectations, and unfortunately, this year will likely look different because of the pandemic.
You may find you’re not able to get together with family and friends you hoped to see. Your budget might be tighter. Holiday events you counted on attending may not happen this year.
The stress of missing out on loved activities and events can make the holiday season seem less jolly. Being in the holiday spirit for the whole season may not be realistic. Remember that it’s okay to acknowledge that things are going to be different this year. In fact, coming to terms with the changes will help you cope with the situation.
“I would suggest that we let go of ‘should’s’ and ‘have-to’s’ and look at what really makes us happy during these times,” comments Case Manager Lori, “If that means coming up with your own rituals and creating your own ‘family’ then so be it.”
Take Time for Yourself
It may be tempting to fill your time up with the things you need to do, or the things you think you should be doing. But it’s important to set aside time to rest and relax. For some, that might mean doing yoga or meditating. It might mean being in a quiet space where you aren’t distracted by the stress of the holidays.
Nervous about the holiday season? Start getting ready early. If you know that a part of the season stresses you out, it may help to start preparing (or mentally preparing) early. Knowing what is coming ahead of time can help you be ready for any challenges to come.
Due to the pandemic, your holiday season this year may be different than previous ones. You may be used to seeing family or friends that you won’t see this year. It can be isolating being alone during the holiday season. Remember that whatever you’re going through, you’re not going through it alone. Make plans to reach out to friends and family virtually and on a regular basis.
The holidays can be a time where feelings of loneliness or isolation feel especially strong. “Reach out to members of your support system, whoever that is for you,” says ACT Team Lead Chris.
Keep Healthy Habits
Don’t let the hustle and bustle of the season get in the way of staying healthy. “There are benefits in maintaining your routine,” says Chris. Now more than ever, you may benefit from keeping healthy habits, like exercising regularly, eating right, and getting enough sleep. It’s also important to keep up your mental health treatment plan. Keep going to therapy and taking your medications.
Whether this time of year is always difficult for you, or you’re experiencing an increase in mental distress because of the pandemic, you aren’t alone. Remember to take care of yourself. And if symptoms become difficult to manage, consider reaching out to a mental health care provider.
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Managing Your Mental Health During the Holidays, National Alliance on Mental Illness.
Stress, Depression, and the Holidays: Tips for Coping, Mayo Clinic.
Holiday Stress and the Brain, Harvard Medical School.