Mental health over the holidays
For many of us, the Christmas holiday is a time we look forward to. There’s the excitement of time off to relax, eat good food, and spend time with friends and family.
But, for others, the mere thought of spending several days, or even weeks, at home brings stress and dread.
Maybe you have a tense, or even toxic, relationship with a parent or relative. Maybe you’re struggling with an eating disorder in a season very focused on food.
Despite what is going on in your life, here are some tips to stay sane and manage your mental health over the holidays.
Have someone in your corner
Have a friend who you trust on speed dial. They don't have to be physically with you when you need to vent or debrief a situation.
Sometimes, we don’t feel safe or comfortable talking to our family about our mental health. If that’s the case, text or call a reliable friend.
Check with your friend first to make sure he or she is okay with having that role. You don’t have to feel alone with your mental health struggles, especially around the holidays.
Schedule some alone time
Being home for the holidays often involves extended periods of time with family members who you might not see on a daily basis.
For those of us who are introverted, this can quickly become draining if you feel like you don’t get a break.
Don’t feel guilty if you need to take a few moments for yourself. You aren’t wasting precious time with family; your self-care routine will help you engage more fully with them.
You can get some alone time by offering to do dishes, or walking the dog, while the rest of your family is doing something else. You could also head off to bed early to sneak in a few minutes to yourself. Or, if all else fails, taking a relaxing hot shower is almost foolproof.
Take time to reflect on your emotions
During our day-to-day craziness, we often get so busy that we don’t take time to check in with ourselves. Instead, we go from one event to another without taking a break.
So, use your much-needed holiday time from work or school to reflect on how you’re feeling. You can journal, draw, or just take some time to think over recent life events.
Reflection can help everyone step back into their daily lives feeling refreshed, which is a much better way than binging shows on Netflix!
Prep responses for potentially hard questions
Family members love to ask personal questions, like “Why don’t you have a boy/girlfriend?”
Even if they mean well, these types of questions often hit a sensitive nerve. Especially when your parents, aunts, grandparents, and neighbours repeatedly ask these questions.
To prevent the feeling of panic every time a question comes up, create some stock responses to have on hand.
For example, you could make a joke like “You know, mum, there are lots of fish in the sea, but they just aren’t swimming in my direction.” Or give a brief, but clear, response before changing the subject. That way you’ve acknowledged the question, but made it clear that the conversation has ended.
Hopefully, you can prevent further probing with these stock responses.
Plan for special meals
This tip is geared toward those who struggle with disordered eating. Holidays can be an incredibly difficult time for people who suffer from anorexia, bulimia, or other difficult relationships with food.
Christmas, and some other holidays, often seem to centre around eating with others, which can be a trigger.
In addition to the tips above, find ways to address your anxieties. Maybe you can help prepare the meal, so you can familiarise yourself with the ingredients in each dish, or even offer to bring some healthier options.
You can also create an exercise plan if you’re used to exercising regularly. You could set aside some time for walks or runs, or attending a yoga class, in the days before or after the holiday. Sticking to your usual routine as much as possible can help alleviate anxiety.
And again, it’s so important to have someone who understands your struggles and can help you stay healthy.
Most importantly, remember that even though your anxiety may tell you differently, the holidays mean so much more than just the food. Focus on enjoying time with friends and family.
Remember that your feelings are valid
If you’re stressed or even dreading the holidays, that’s absolutely fine.
You don’t have to feel the same excitement as others. Accept what you feel toward the holiday season, and step into it ready to take care of yourself.
Hopefully, these tips will help you stay mentally healthy and enjoy this holiday season as much as possible.
Disclaimer: This is not advice from a professional. Please speak to a mental health care provider about any concerns you may have.