If you struggle with your mental health and the holidays seem to make it worse, our Holiday Advent Calendar is here to help you ring in the season with joy.
The holidays can be a stressful time when self-care becomes more important than ever. You’re expected to attend a full schedule of social gatherings, you’re encountering financial stressors and everyone seems to have the underlying expectation that things will be perfect. The toll on mental health that holidays take can be stressful for everyone, but it’s especially challenging for someone in recovery or dealing with a mental health condition. Our guide takes you through an advent calendar of tips for managing your mental health and the holidays.
A Calendar for Self-Care This Holiday Season
1. Reflect on the Year
Consider taking a pause and reflecting on the year behind you. Acknowledge the hardships you’ve overcome, the achievements you’ve earned and the happy moments. Viewing the year as a whole can put the holidays into perspective and make them feel less significant. We recommend writing down your reflections, as it can be an excellent therapeutic practice to see everything laid out in front of you.
2. Spend Time on Yourself
So much of the holidays are about social gatherings and sharing yourself with others. It’s one time in the year when you usually spend a lot of time and money on the other people in your life. While that can feel great, it can also be overwhelming. You can practice self-care by making yourself a priority these holidays. Book yourself a massage, watch a funny movie, block off a day on your calendar for yourself or make plans to do your favorite activity.
3. A Different Kind of Inventory
Why are holidays stressful for so many people? It’s simple: We put too much pressure on ourselves to live up to unrealistic expectations. Instead of listing tasks that need to be done, inventory how you’re doing. It can be easy to lose track of your mental well-being when you’re busy all the time. Stop and check in with yourself, and be honest. Are you coping well? Do you feel ready to take on everything you’ve lined up this holiday? Doing this self-check early on will be vital in identifying if you’re overwhelmed. Don’t let the situation spiral and get worse — as soon as you realize you’re not doing well, make some changes.
4. Prioritize Sleep
The holidays are probably one of the easiest times to skimp on sleep. You have gifts to buy, decorations to put up and parties to attend. And yet, because you’re going to be doing so much, this is the time you actually need to prioritize sleep. One of the core principles of self-care is getting 7 to 8 hours of restful sleep every night. Inadequate sleep has been linked to problems such as anxiety, depression and a weakened immune system.
Try to always go to sleep at the same time (even on weekends), block out light in your room and stop using electronic devices at least an hour before bedtime.
5. Get Exercise
Exercise has enormous mental health benefits, from improving your mood to releasing endorphins. And while it might feel like the holidays are too busy to fit in exercise, you must make time for it. Try to incorporate regular exercise into your routine. You can go for walks during your lunch break, try a 30-day yoga challenge or sign up for classes close to your home. Getting this time in will help you sleep better, feel more energized and reduce your overall stress.
6. Avoid Overindulgence
The holiday season can often welcome indulgence, but try to avoid overspending, overeating and overdrinking. Trying to buy happiness won’t work, and overdrinking and overeating can leave you feeling ashamed, stressed and tired. Stick to a budget and a healthy diet and you’ll feel better all around.
7. Set Boundaries
If you know the holidays are generally challenging for you, set some expectations from the very beginning. Permit yourself to have boundaries with people. You can set limitations on how much you spend and how much social activity you’re willing to commit to. As soon as you start to feel anxious or overwhelmed, try to scale things back. Self-care is about putting yourself first and understanding that you have the right to say no.
8. Manage Your Expectations
Going into any holiday season, it can be helpful to manage your expectations. People may choose not to travel or change their plans, family members might bring unexpected guests and old traditions might be exchanged for new ones. Try to remind yourself that different doesn’t have to mean bad.
9. Don’t Isolate Yourself
Holidays are depressing, especially when you feel alone. As tempting as it may be, it’s important not to isolate yourself. If you don’t have friends or family in town, ask them to set up a virtual call, or consider attending a holiday work party or local community gathering. While you may not initially feel up for these gatherings, you’ll most likely find that you feel energized and happier for having attended them.
10. Perform an Act of Kindness
The holidays are the perfect time to perform an act of kindness. When you take the time to do something nice for someone else, it can do wonders for your mood. Consider volunteering, buying a gift for someone special or donating to a great cause. Even a small effort can make a big difference for others.
11. Do Something You Love
Don’t forget that the holiday season is also a time for you to celebrate. Take the time to do something you love this season, either with friends or family or just by yourself. You can bake some of your favorite treats, go ice skating or buy yourself a present. If you’ve found that the busyness of the season has caused you to drop a hobby, try picking it up again. When you do something you love, you can collect your energy for the holiday events to come.
12. Ask for Help
Holidays can be tough for many reasons. If you find yourself struggling with negative thoughts or feeling anxious, depressed or unable to cope, reach out for help. You don’t have to go through this alone. Sometimes, self-care simply means knowing when you’re not okay. Consider reaching out to friends, family, coworkers or a counselor for assistance when you need it.
13. Get Outside
Instead of hibernating until spring, try bundling up and “walking in a winter wonderland” instead. Nordic countries with long winters embrace the concept of friluftsliv, which translates to “unwinding in the open air.” Studies have shown that being outside in nature for just 30 minutes a day can boost mood, enhance emotional well-being and encourage mindfulness. Exposure to natural light can also increase energy levels, improve sleep, support immune function and help alleviate the so-called “winter blues,” or seasonal affective disorder (SAD).
14. Reconnect With Reality
When we’re stressed, we turn to our digital devices to help us unwind — but hours of mindlessly scrolling through addictive content has the opposite effect on our mental health. Instead, limit your screen time with a digital detox this season and see how much of a difference it has on your mood. Start with phone-free evenings when you pick up a good book or engage in a hands-on hobby instead. You’ll be impressed at how much your quality of life improves and how much free time you gain in the process.
Engaging in any form of creative expression — painting, poetry, playing an instrument or whatever inspires you — offers a healthy outlet for negative emotions that might surface during the holidays. Whether you’re a novice or a pro, getting into the flow of being fully absorbed in the creative process gets your mind off your worries. When you see your project through from start to finish, you’ll also gain a sense of accomplishment that will boost your confidence.
16. Set up a Stress-Free Zone
The holidays can be chaotic, and nothing makes us feel scatterbrained quite like clutter and clamor. Make sure you carve out a quiet corner in your living space to retreat to when you’re overwhelmed by holiday-related stressors. Sometimes all it takes is a soak in a candlelit bubble bath — or curling up under a cozy blanket with a relaxing playlist and a warm beverage — to restore a sense of calm.
If you know you struggle with the holidays, FHE Health can help. Our skilled team has supported thousands of individuals struggling with mental health and substance abuse issues. Compassionate counselors are on call 24/7 throughout the holiday season — just reach out and contact us today.