The holiday season is supposed to be a time of love, light and joy. But for most people, it’s also a time of stress. 88% of Americans are stressed out by the holidays, and the average couple will have seven (!) arguments around the holiday period. It’s not difficult to imagine why mental health at Christmas is challenging for so many people.
- Extended families gather together, triggering complicated dynamics and relationship issues that might otherwise be dormant.
- The holidays are expensive. The costs of entertaining, decorations, travel and gifts put a strain on finances for many families.
- There’s the added pressures of cooking, cleaning, hosting, and preparing – all of which break up the usual routine and make life busier and more demanding.
- And of course, grief is accentuated during the holidays, when the loss of a loved one is so much more painful. In 2021, 36% of Americans didn't feel like celebrating the holidays because of feelings of grief and loss.
Whether we want it or not, the holiday season comes around every year. Rather than resisting the challenges of mental health and the holidays, it is wise to learn techniques that can help you reduce stress, cope better, and – who knows? – maybe even enjoy the festive season.
Here are five-holiday mental health tips you should practice:
1. Make time for self-care
While so much busy preparation and celebration is going on, it is all too easy to forget about you. Be sure to prioritize time to focus on yourself every day, so you get what you need to relax and recharge. This may be difficult to do, particularly if you have house guests or a lot of extra commitments. But it is really important to take that time out. Self care is different for everybody. Consider what it means to you, so you can plan out your schedule to include time to look after yourself. For example, a 15 minute walk every evening, or half an hour reading a book in the bath, are both examples of self care. Whatever works for you, remember that no one can care for you better than you can, so make the time to give yourself what you need – there is no better Christmas gift than that!
2. Enjoy the holiday food, in healthy moderation
When it comes to healthy eating, the holidays are tough. 47% of Americans say that they’ll be giving in to temptation and giving up on their diets during the holiday season. If you feel like you want to let go and enjoy some of your favorite festive foods over Christmas, you’re not alone! Delicious meals prepared with love and shared with family and friends during the holiday season are an important source of pleasure. That kind of joy and connection is really important to mental health too. At the same time, too much overindulging in alcohol and unhealthy foods can trigger irritability and other mind-body symptoms. Moderation is key – enjoy all your favorite dishes and make sure not to overdo it too often!
3. Set realistic expectations for yourself
During the holidays, the pressure is high, and so are expectations. Unrealistic expectations are a known source of stress and poor mental health. People get stressed that their decorations are up on time and look amazing. Some feel pressured to buy the perfect gifts or gifts that they can’t really afford. If you are hosting a large Christmas meal, there may be pressure to provide a delicious menu catering to all kinds of dietary requirements and tastes. It is really important to take a step back from the long “to-do” list and see how you can bring your expectations back to a more realistic and healthy place. In some cases, this means saying no and setting boundaries, so that you do not fall victim to other people’s expectations of what you “should” be doing. But more importantly, be kind to yourself and rethink your self-expectations so they are more realistic and won’t hamper your Christmas and mental health.
4. Make time for exercise
When there are gifts to buy, decorations to hang, meals to cook, and guests to host, it can be difficult to stick to your exercise routine. But making time for exercise is one of the most important things you can do for your mental health around the holidays. The benefits of exercise on mental health are well documented by science; the tricky part in the holiday season is finding the time to do it! Try to get in some physical activity on a regular basis, even something as simple as going for a walk with the dog, or playing with the kids in the yard or park. Don’t worry about sticking to your regular routine; you may not have time for it, and you’ll only be creating unrealistic expectations. Rather, be flexible and take the opportunity to be active and move whenever the opportunity arises.
5. Practice Mindfulness, a valuable mental wellness tool
Mindfulness has been used in Eastern culture to reduce stress and improve mental health for 2,000 years. More recently, clinical studies have demonstrated numerous benefits of mindfulness for mind-body well-being, including reduced blood pressure, reduced anxiety and depression, a clearer mind, and better sleep. During times of elevated stress and tension, such as the holiday season, mindfulness is a valuable tool to help maintain mental health. Mindfulness is a technique that helps you become aware of thoughts and feelings as they occur, so you can be centered and present in your body at the moment. This enables you to become less resistant to feelings of discomfort, so you become less judgemental of yourself, and practice being in a state of inner acceptance and calm. By practicing mindfulness, just a few minutes a day, you have a helpful tool at your fingertips to reduce holiday stress, even during all the joyous chaos that the season brings.
A biofeedback device can make a difference during these holidays
Mindfulness becomes even more impactful when done in conjunction with biofeedback. With the Reflect biofeedback device, you can see the impact of your mindfulness practice on your physiological responses as they occur, and use that knowledge to achieve a state of relaxation during everyday life. With Reflect, you don’t need any special setup or equipment. Simply rest your hands on the orb, practice mindfulness or meditation, track your mind-body reaction, and learn how to calm down and relax. This is an easy and powerful skill that can help you cope better with the high-stress levels that inevitably come with the holiday season