Can the Holiday season be good for your mental health?
Merry, Merry! It’s the Holiday season and a time for family gatherings, cheers, tree decorating and other gift hunting.
Or is it?
Isn’t it also the time for angst, stress, overwhelm and sadness? Sadness at the year past and all that didn’t get accomplished. Overwhelm at the excessive and sometimes forced, fake-looking cheer. Stress at the simple prospect of trying to find the perfect gift, or the frenzy of parties. Angst at what was lost and will never be recovered. Add the lack of sun and daylight saving time, and you’ve got the perfect storm for a major meltdown.
The Holidays always used to propel me into full anxiety mode.
So many things to do, so many opportunities to fail, so many people and social gatherings (that’s torture for an introvert like me).
At some point, I toyed (pun intended) with the idea of not doing the Holidays. Like not at all. Like, go on vacation somewhere far, far away where Christmas is not even a thing. Or hole up at home, suddenly sick with something so contagious that it would be criminal to let anyone near me. Of course, that illness would have to make me unable to answer calls, read emails or respond to texts too.
Then I realized that what has become “The Holidays” is a full 6 weeks period that seems to get longer each year…So much for vacation or illness.
So what’s a girl to do? Play pretend, give into the fake cheer and let her mental health go down the drain with the hope of picking up the pieces on January 2nd? Not an option either.
Ride the wave, but don’t let it drown you
There’s no stopping the Holidays, so let’s get creative in how to approach it. Nothing is black or white; Success lies in making adjustments and live in a full spectrum of colors.
Setting up reasonable expectations and following up on a plan will give you a better sense of control and will keep you accountable to your own mental health.
First, make a list of what you like about the Holidays and actually want to do, aka what will feed your soul and make you feel good. Decorate the house? Yes. Bake cookies? Yum, yes! Go to parties? Only for select ones. Shop for a zillion gifts? No way.
Be hyper-selective and don’t apologize for it. You come first. If someone takes offence, remind them that there are another 364 days in the year to do stuff together.
Your have a routine, stick to it
Now is not the time to let go of good habits built throughout the year. Exercise, reasonable eating and drinking, enough sleep, setting time aside for relaxation or meditation are more important than ever. You do not stop wearing a seatbelt when entering the highway.
Isolation is not the answer
As anxiety-generating as family gatherings can be, isolating yourself completely is not the answer. But again, be selective. Surround yourself with people you actually want to hang out with. Whether it’s family, friends or support groups, the great thing about being together is that the benefits go both ways: you like being with them, they like being with you.
What about people you do not want to hang out with? Retreat, and do not apologize for it. No need to make up an excuse; be honest while staying kind.
Practice kindness and be grateful
Being grateful and enjoying the moment can significantly improve our physical and mental health.
There are a many opportunities for charitable work during the Holidays. Charities receive a lot of donations that they need to process, soup kitchens and food banks need hands to distribute goods, and many organizations welcome volunteers to help with events.
“Doing good” is proven to boost the production of oxytocin, a feel-good hormone. So, look for opportunities to give your time and skills to a charitable organization. You’ll help others in need, maybe move a little further away from the mercantile aspect of the Holidays, and bonus point you will improve your well-being.
The same goes for gratefulness. It takes practice to rewire our brains from seeing the negative to purposefully seeing the positive in all aspects of our lives.
I’ll get personal here: my grandfather passed away on Thanskgiving day a few years ago. For me, this celebration will forever be associated with deep pain and sadness. However, overtime I learned to see the positive in that. Thanksgiving has become a special time for me to be grateful for having known my grandpa, for spending time with him when I was a kid, for having so many fond memories. My husband never knew any of his grandparents. I would not trade the pain of losing my “Pepe” (as I called him) if it meant not having those memories.
Being grateful and enjoying the moment can significantly improve our physical and mental health. It can be as simple as enjoying a breath of fresh air, the smell of the snow, a roof over your head or, wrapping a present for someone you love.
Are you ready to love the Holiday this season?