The 2020 holiday season is fast approaching. Due to constraints on travel, finances, and safety, things are shaping up a little differently. To add to the usual joys and stress of the holiday season, family members are responding to the pandemic in various ways. While some family members are extremely safety conscious about social distancing, others have chosen a more relaxed approach—and this dichotomy can create tension amongst family members. This added stress and uncertainty can take a toll on your mental health. We spoke with a Licensed Clinical Psychologist, Beverly Barclay, PhD, who offered her tips on managing your mental health during the holiday season. Regardless of how you’re spending the holidays, here are Dr. Barclay’s 5 tips to protect your mental health this holiday season.
5 tips to protect your mental health over the holidays
Tip #1: Set realistic expectations
Setting realistic expectations for the holiday can be beneficial in reducing holiday stress. We often create stress to achieve unrealistic holiday goals, which can lead to disappointment and increased tension. Entering the holiday season with realistic expectations can be one way to combat the emotional swing and emotional stress that many feel from the holidays. Remember, these are just days, so try not to attach excessive emotional connotations to them. Events have the meaning we ascribe to them, and a few days each year cannot rectify the past or determine the future.
Tip #2: Don’t compare yourself to others
There is pressure to compare ourselves to others’ lives in today’s society, be it real or imagined. We consume images from movies, television, and social media and compare our lives, our families, and our circumstances to them. This is unfair because we are not getting a full view of the other aspects we’re not seeing. Social media is a highlight reel, so it is vital to not compare yourself to others. Remember that what you are comparing to is not a realistic comparison. By not comparing yourself to others, you can better insulate yourself from holiday stress and feel more grateful for the things you do have.
Tip #3: Stay connected
If you are struggling this holiday season, reach out to those that you trust and can confide in—whether a therapist, friend, or confidant. If you’re alone, not able to celebrate as usual due to COVID-19, or struggling with anxiety and depression, stay connected and reach out to people that you trust. If you find yourself truly isolated, then utilize journaling. Maintaining a connection with others can help alleviate some of the symptoms of anxiety and depression.
Tip #4: Practice self-care
Self-care is of the utmost importance during the holiday season. Get good quality sleep, take time to exercise by going for walks or stretching, eat well-balanced foods, and drink plenty of water. It can be easy to get caught up eating the tasty seasonal foods and forget that self-care needs to continue even during the holiday season to maintain good mental health.
Tip #5: Set healthy boundaries
Setting boundaries has always been a tricky concept when dealing with family, but it is an essential component of healthy family functioning during the holiday season. Having healthy boundaries helps reduce anxiety and depression during the holidays. When members of a family can communicate respectfully and openly while being considerate of each other, the family can usually function in a cohesive manner. Making your boundaries and limits known is an essential part of having an enjoyable time with your family.
Often, the fear of being forced into uncomfortable situations due to the inability to manage boundary-setting causes feelings of anxiety. Family matters can quickly devolve into conflict, so it is crucial to have an idea of what you are going to say before the situation arises. You can practice role-playing with friends, your partner, therapist, or safe family member to prepare yourself for how you are going to set those boundaries. Remember to also set boundaries for personal time, self-care, meditation, exercise, journaling, or just quiet time for yourself.
With these tips, you can better manage stress and protect your mental health this holiday season. It is crucial to remember that the best place for family members and friends to meet each other is a place of love and mutual respect. Regardless of your personal opinions of how to respond to the pandemic, it is important to show respect to the precautions that family members insist upon in their respective houses. The purpose of family gatherings is to gather and enjoy your time together—not to sway opinions or influence ideas.
Most importantly, be gentle with yourself. The pandemic has caused many people to change their plans, and the holiday season will look different this year. If you struggle with anxiety and depression, a sudden shift in tradition may cause you to feel a loss of control coupled with disappointment. Whatever you’re feeling, know that it’s okay. Take some time to sort through your emotions by journaling, talking to a friend, or just spending some quiet time alone thinking. If you need additional support this holiday season, get connected with one of our therapists today.