Nine tips for practicing self-care during “the most wonderful time of the year”
The holiday season is often a festive and joyful time of year to celebrate and be with family and friends. But for many, it can be overwhelming and even lead to feelings of loneliness, anxiety, or depression — sometimes referred to as the “holiday blues.”
The holiday blues are common, and although different from mental illness, should be taken seriously. There are many reasons why people might experience stress and sadness between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day, including a lack of sleep and downtime, unrealistic expectations, financial stress, isolation and grief, and expectations for the new year ahead.
Fortunately, there are ways you can address these concerns and ensure that you are taking care of yourself during the holiday season.
Get enough sleep, schedule downtime, and make healthy choices
A hectic holiday schedule, with frequent travel or many social obligations to fulfill, can lead to exhaustion and a lack of sleep, which increases stress. There can also be pressure to wrap things up at school or work during this time. Some people may also turn to unhealthy coping strategies, such as eating too much or not enough, to handle these feelings, often making them worse.
It is always important to prioritize your emotional health and well-being. Remember to take time for self-care and ensure that you are getting enough sleep, exercise, and nutritious foods. It is okay to take a break from or decline social gatherings, make time for hobbies you enjoy, and connect with what is most important to you about the holidays.
It is okay to trust yourself and set and stick to boundaries that make sense for you.
Take a break from social media and set realistic expectations
Holidays are often seen as a cheerful time, which creates pressure for things to be “perfect” and leads to disappointment if they are not. It’s especially easy to compare ourselves to others during this time as we scroll through social media and think someone else’s life and family are perfect. We might assume everyone around us is happy, and we’re the odd one out.
Being too connected to our phones, computers, and devices can put our brains on overload. Set boundaries for yourself to look at your phone less, and avoid screens at bedtime.
Slow down and breathe
We often try to multitask when we have so many things to cross off our to-do lists, so whether you are sipping your favorite hot beverage or folding laundry, try shifting your attention to be deliberate and thoughtful. Paying attention to only the moment at hand can create a healthy focus and curb the feeling of being overwhelmed.
When we experience stress, we also sometimes hold our breath, meaning less oxygen gets to the brain. Taking the time to focus on our breathing and letting our body do what it knows how to do can be a shortcut to calm. Check out breathing exercises you can use anytime.
Call a loved one and connect
During the 2020 holiday season, many people could not see their families and friends due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Not being able to spend time with loved ones for whatever reason can leave us feeling lonely, something especially true for those who aren’t close to their families and tend to spend this time of year home alone.
Whether you are feeling isolated, stressed, or any other difficult emotion, the worst thing you can do is keep it bottled in. The voice of a trusted friend or family member can help us calm down and get perspective. Instead of texting, connect by phone — hearing a familiar voice can be calming and comforting.
Acknowledge your grief
For people grieving the loss of a loved one, it can sometimes feel like the rest of the world has forgotten and moved on from something that was very painful for those individuals. These feelings can be incredibly strong for those going through their first holiday season without the person they lost.
If you are grieving this time of year, realize that the holidays may look different going forward. You may feel a variety of emotions — upset that your loved one is gone, guilty over a lack of “holiday cheer,” a desire to continue old traditions or let them go. There is no right or wrong way to grieve or celebrate, and your grief matters whether you feel sad or find joy during this time.
Make a budget and respect it
Gift-giving, events, and travel can all take a toll on our wallets, which creates an added layer of stress when we have other bills to pay. We all want to be generous with our family and friends, but it is important to be realistic about what you can afford. Consider sharing an experience instead of swapping material gifts or giving something homemade like jewelry or a knitted scarf.
Movement gets the blood flowing and brings our attention to where we are. Exercising, taking a walk, or even a quick stretch can reduce stress.
Taking the time to sit down and simply follow your breath can bring you into the moment and help you feel connected. Here are easy steps you can follow to meditate:
- Sit or lie down comfortably.
- Gently close your eyes.
- Don’t try and control your breath; just let your breath flow naturally.
- Focus your attention on the breath, observing the inhalation and exhalation. If your mind wanders, simply bring it back to the breath.
- Spend 5 minutes with this practice.
Look to the future with optimism
At the end of the year, people may reflect on goals they had set for themselves and have feelings of disappointment, regret, or failure if they did not accomplish those things. Remember to be gentle and patient with yourself and that each day is a chance to begin again.
Ultimately, feelings of isolation, depression, and anxiety may come and go with the holiday season, but if you notice they intensify or persist after the holidays end, please reach out to a trusted adult or mental health professional for support. If you or someone you know needs immediate help, text START to 741-741 or call 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
More important than the holiday to-do lists are finding ways to take care of yourself throughout the holiday season and all year long.
Learn how to get help for yourself or someone you’re worried about at our new Mental Health Resource Center.