I don’t know about you, but this year feels like it is flying by. I feel like I was just handing the kids popsicles and now Thanksgiving is around the corner and I’m buying snow gear. As a therapist, this time of year is known for difficulty and tends to keep my office hours very full. No doubt the holidays can make mental health challenges more difficult. The holidays aren’t just pumpkin spice everything and sleigh bells ringing. There’s plenty of drama, estranged family members, expectations, and financial pressure to be faced. This season, that’s supposed to be filled with cheer, can be stressful and depressing for those with and without mental health challenges. These tips will help you ease into this holiday season feeling a little more prepared and a little less stressed. 

Plan Ahead & Get Organized

This is going to be the foundation of setting yourself up successfully this holiday season. Get organized. Write things in your calendar and plan a few extra things for yourself that are stress-free. A concert, coffee with a friend, ice skating, seeing a movie, turkey run, etc. Things you can actually look forward to on your calendar! Make sure you don’t overload your schedule too, we have a tendency to try to make every invite but instead plan in plenty of breaks for yourself as needed. Mentally prepare yourself for the annoying questions aunt Janet is sure to ask. “When are you having kids? Do you have a boyfriend?” Don’t be afraid to give a generic response “I’m great, I’m focusing on my career right now, thanks for asking.”  Redirect and change the topic. Also, spend some time reflecting on what might be triggering for you this holiday season so you are able to plan accordingly. Planning ahead means you have also mentally prepared yourself for what’s coming, which is one of the best strategies to support yourself.

Budget

Acknowledge that you will give what you can and want to give this year. Don’t feel obligated to spend a bunch of money this holiday season. Budget for what and how you want to spend so that your financial wellness is in check. Create things instead of buying them. Crafts, canned items, offer services, shared experiences, or baked goods. I would be thrilled to get a plate of cookies over almost anything!

Self Care

This is one you should be doing regardless of the time of year but it is especially important around the holidays. Be gentle with yourself, practice self-compassion and positive self-talk. Don’t fall into the dieting traps or food restrictions talks. Identify your triggers- people, places, traditions, etc. This can be a difficult time, so acknowledge your feelings. Drink plenty of water, be aware of your alcohol intake, take opportunities to move your body or go on short walks. 

Hold Healthy Boundaries

Having healthy boundaries is a form of self-care. Know your limits. Not everyone is thrilled about seeing family or gets along with family and that’s okay. Don’t feel obligated to stay overnight with them, opt for a hotel or friend or family member whom you do enjoy. Have an escape plan. If you need to leave a family function early or bring a friend along feel free to do so. Plan breaks as needed for yourself.  Make your choices based on your needs, execute these choices with kindness and don’t feel guilty for doing what feels most healthy for you. Give yourself permission to say no, walk away, or skip out on certain things. 

Isolation, Loneliness, & Being Single

Some people truly don’t have many folks to spend the holidays with. Whether it’s because you don’t have a partner, little to no family, or have lost loved ones you still deserve to be surrounded by love and warmth. Even if you are the one providing that for yourself. Give yourself permission to spend the holidays alone if that is what you need. Perhaps leave town for a weekend getaway or vacation. If not know there are ways to surround yourself with people. A few things you might find helpful for this are picking up a new hobby (this can create a small new community for you), volunteering your time somewhere that feels meaningful, join a book club, plan a self-care activity for yourself, or reach out to a neighbor. Looking for opportunities to serve can evoke gratitude as well as feel rewarding and healing. 

Reach out for help

Set yourself up with a therapist, or a support group. Make a plan with your therapist that you can stick to and feels supportive. Having someone or a group to talk these things through with can be helpful. If you are feeling depressed and suicidal reach out for help at the Suicide Prevention Hotline (1-800-273-8255) or call 911. 

I love the holidays not only for the family filled time, but for the time off in general. The extra time to do what I want. To spend time alone, away from work. To unplug, rest, and recharge. Get clear on what holidays you value, why and what you want to celebrate. Celebrate the traditions you love, and or create new ones. Cut out things that aren’t truly important to you. Politely pass on events that are not adding value to your life. Remember, no one has the perfect family, or the perfect holiday season. Learn from the past. Know that what happened last year doesn’t have to repeat itself and that you can take this season day by day.  I hope that this season can be a meaningful one for you, filled with connection and intention. 

Merrily and mindfully,

Haneen Ahmad, MSW, LICSW

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