Black woman hugging child in front of Christmas tree. Text reads "8 tips to stay mentally healthy during the holidays"

8 Tips for Mental Health during the Holidays

The holidays tend to be a “season of stress” for many of us. There’s often too much to do, pressure to find and buy the perfect gifts, obligations to spend time with relatives who we’d rather not see, and an expectation that we will do it all with ease.

And on top of that, you may have the added stress of holiday travel, grief over loved ones no longer with you, and dark, gloomy weather that keeps you cooped up inside.

With all these challenges, it’s no wonder that our mental health can take a hit during the holidays. However, by making a few reasonable changes, you can preserve your emotional well-being during this stressful time of year.

Tips for mental health during the holidays

Tip 1: Maintain your routine. A routine makes it easier to continue healthy habits such as going to bed on time, exercising, and taking medications.

With all of the added holiday events, changes to work and school schedules, traveling, and having guests, it’s easy for your routine to go right out the window.

It may not be possible to maintain your entire routine, but you will probably find it helpful to ground yourself with one or two key elements from your usual healthy habits. This could be figuring out how to maintain an exercise regime while on vacation or prioritizing your therapy appointments during December instead of letting them slide when you get busy.

Read more in this article: Give Yourself the Gift of Self-Care.

Tip 2: Don’t be afraid to say no. If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know that I emphasize the importance of boundaries a lot–because they make a difference.

Try saying no to things that you’re not interested in doing and don’t have the time, energy, or money to do. It does take practice to get comfortable saying no, but most people will understand that you have limits and priorities, especially when you decline in a direct and kind manner.

For more information about setting boundaries, read these articles:

Healthy Boundaries for the Holidays

6 Things You Can Say No to This Holiday Season

Tip 3: Find ways to deal with loneliness. Loneliness is magnified during the holidays if you don’t have family or friends to spend them with or you’re missing a loved one due to death or distance.

There isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution for loneliness, but there are some ways you can ease the pain. For some, it may be to volunteer or find ways to get involved in the community, and for others, it might be creating new rituals that help you enjoy the solitude and give you opportunities for reflection and creative pursuits.

For more information, read the article Coping with Loneliness or get a free copy of my Guide to Coping with Loneliness and Grief During the Holidays.

Tip 4: Spend time doing holiday-related activities that bring you happiness. We can all agree that many aspects of the holidays are stressful, but there are also many holiday traditions and activities that make us feel good. Spend a few minutes thinking about what you enjoy most about the holidays. How can you incorporate more of those activities into your schedule? (Sometimes it means saying no to the activities that drain you!)

Here are a few ideas to consider:

  • Bake – Perhaps you have some special holiday recipes that you only make this time of year. (Find out more about the mental health benefits of baking here.)
  • Decorate – Some people get a big happiness boost from putting up an elaborate light display, while others enjoy hanging all the ornaments their kids made through the years. (Read more about the mental health benefits of decorating here.)
  • Attend religious services. (Learn more about the mental health benefits of religion and spirituality here.)
  • Volunteer, donate toys or food, or adopt a family in need. (Learn more about the benefits of volunteering here.)
  • Reminisce – Thinking about positive holiday memories, recounting childhood memories with your siblings, or looking through photo albums can promote happiness for some people. (Read more about the psychological benefits of reminiscing here and here.)
  • Enjoy holiday music, go to a concert, sing meaningful hymns or uplifting songs. (Read more about the psychological benefits of listening to music here.)

Tip 5: All things in moderation. Our physical health certainly impacts our mental health, so we need to be thoughtful about how we treat our bodies. It’s easy to overindulge in sugary treats, alcohol, and late nights during the holiday season, but doing so can leave us exhausted, irritable, and guilt-ridden. Try to enjoy things in moderation to stay feeling your best.

Tip 6: Connect with supportive people. Many people feel obligated to spend time with negative or unsupportive family members during the holidays. If you can, try to minimize your time with difficult or toxic people and spend time with positive people to help buffer the negative impact. Who are the supportive people in your life? When will you make time to spend with these supportive people? Face-to-face time may be ideal, but phone calls and texts work, too. To learn more about dealing with negative people, read these articles:

How to Avoid Other People’s Drama

Healthy Communication

Tip 7: Let go of perfection. The holidays are filled with expectations for ourselves and others. Perhaps you’re chasing your tail trying to find the perfect gift for your mother or trying to decorate your house or bake cookies that look like the photos you saw on Instagram. Or perhaps you’re expecting your children to behave impeccably at your in-law’s holiday dinner. It would certainly be lovely if we could make the holidays turn out perfectly, but usually, these are wishes built on unrealistic expectations.

When we expect perfection from ourselves and others, we’re bound to be disappointed. Instead, we can set more realistic expectations and extend compassion to ourselves and others when we make mistakes or show up imperfectly. When we do this, we all end up happier and we can keep what really matters about the holidays in perspective. If you’d like more strategies for letting go of perfection, read the following articles:

Affirmations for Perfectionists

12 Ways to Stop Being a Perfectionist

Tip 8: Appreciate the little things. It’s easy to take the positives in our lives for granted; we all have lots to be thankful for if we train ourselves to look for what we have rather than what’s lacking. Creating a daily gratitude practice is an excellent way to stay mentally and physically healthy. A simple way to do this is to identify three things you’re grateful for each day – perhaps doing it right before bed or first thing in the morning.

If you’d like to know more about the benefits of gratitude and how to create a practice, take a look at these articles:

The Power of Gratitude: 30 Gratitude Journal Prompts

How to Create a Photo Gratitude Journal

Gratitude During Difficult Times

Despite all the extra commitments and stressors this time of year, you can stay mentally healthy. Often it just takes a few small changes and freeing ourselves from the “shoulds” that trap us in obligations, traditions, and expectations that don’t work for us.

I hope these ideas will help you enjoy a peaceful holiday season that supports your health and well-being.

©2022 Sharon Martin, LCSW. All rights reserved. Photos courtesy of Canva.com.

Get Your Handling the Holidays Toolkit!

coping with difficult family during the holidays

If you have a difficult or toxic family member, you know that the holidays are the most challenging time of year. So, I created some digital resources to help you get through the holidays with less stress and more joy! Here’s what you’ll learn:

How to set realistic expectations and avoid being disappointed and resentful

How to stop trying to change others and focus on changing yourself

How to recognize your triggers and avoid over or underreacting

How to recognize early signs of stress, so you can head it off early

How to say “no” without feeling guilty

For more info, click HERE.

Sharon Martin is a psychotherapist, writer, speaker, and media contributor on emotional health and relationships. She specializes in helping people uncover their inherent worth and learn to accept themselves -- imperfections and all! Sharon writes a popular blog called Conquering Codependency for Psychology Today and is the author of The CBT Workbook for Perfectionism: Evidence-Based Skills to Help You Let Go of Self-Criticism, Build Self-Esteem, and Find Balance and The Better Boundaries Workbook.

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