7 Tips to Protect Your Mental Health During The Holiday Season

If it feels like the most difficult time of the year, read this!

By: Dominique Michelle Astorino

Your neighbors’ houses are being strung up with lights one by one, there’s a nip in the air, and relatives are starting to call asking about your plans for the holidays. Each and every year, as the season approaches, while excitement swirls around us, anxiety can also swell within us.

Even if you’re at the peak of your mental health game, holiday season stress can throw even the ‘sturdiest’ among us off our game. The traffic, the overbooked calendar, the burnt turkey or dropped pie, the in-laws overstaying their welcome, the deadlines at work before PTO… you get it (sorry to spike your cortisol with this sentence alone!). 

Oftentimes, these stresses can overtake the joy of the season — but not this year! You have us, and you have this handy guide to prioritize and protect your mental health, emotional well-being, and self-care needs.

7 Tips For Holiday Season Mental Health Care

Make a Holiday Joy List

Regardless of which holidays you celebrate in the winter months, choose a handful of activities that support your mental health and boost your mood. What makes you feel like a kid again or instills a sense of wonder? The season can become jam-packed with “have to do” instead of “love to do” — and that can lead to a little resentment (while sapping the joy from what is supposed to be the most wonderful time of the year!).

Conversely, an empty holiday calendar can also take a toll on mental health — holiday loneliness is an epidemic in and of itself. This tip applies to both circumstances.

Take some time as the season begins to identify even small things that you love about the season, so you can prioritize them on your calendar. It could be making homemade cocoa from scratch, going for a walk in the snow, taking your kids ice skating, seeing The Nutcracker ballet, hosting a Friendsgiving… you name it! And make it actionable — put a date on your calendar when you’ll do these things. 

Don’t Overbook (and Get Comfortable Saying No!)

This has been a popular topic as of late, but the word “no” can be a radical act of self-care. Stretching yourself thin is a surefire way to eradicate the holly jolly from the holiday season; it adds unnecessary stress, which inevitably impacts your health for the worse. 

Protect your mental health: have a limit to what you say yes to. Consider what your priorities are and what you can skip. You don’t have to have a scheduling conflict, either. If it detracts from your energy levels and mood, puts too much on your plate, or leaves you with the tiniest inkling of anxiety, do yourself a favor… say no. This is an excellent practice in boundary setting for the coming year, too. 

Create Your Sanctuary/Escape

Regardless of plans or settings, having a plan for a mental and physical ‘escape’ is important. If you’re staying with relatives or friends, find your escape spot — a place where you can recalibrate when you feel overwhelmed. It could be going outside for a walk, hiding out in your room (even your car) for a bit to take a beat, or even spending a few minutes in a bathroom to do some deep breathing. While this might sound a little dramatic, it’s better to have this set out ahead of time in case stress levels mount — at least you’ll have your pre-planned respite. 

Do the same thing if you have people visiting your home, as it can feel overwhelming to have your respite (your home!) encroached upon, even by those you’ve invited in. Set a designated chill-out spot in your home where you can do a mental reset.

It’s always important to ‘have an out,’ particularly if seeing certain family members or friends is typically on the more stressful side (hey, it happens!). Giving yourself permission to take a break — or leave, in some cases — is essential. Remember: you’re not the only person who deals with family drama or dysfunction (this is a broad-reaching, borderline universal experience). 

Safeguard Your Self-Care (and Your Routine!)

Keeping your healthy routine and self-care practices in place can help you maintain good mental health that’ll help you stave off any incoming holiday panic and stress more easily. This includes your regular movement practice and exercise, meditation, journaling, and anything else you do regularly for mental health maintenance. 

It’s easy for these things to fall by the wayside when your schedule and routine are disrupted by holiday plans and travels. Get ahead of it: consider how you’re going to incorporate these components of your essential self-care into your holiday schedule, whether you’re busy at home or out of town. Guard these practices fiercely — it’s essential to keeping your mental health in the best condition possible. Don’t let taking care of you take a back seat. 

Practice Financial Self Care

Money troubles and financial strain are one of the leading causes of holiday season stress, according to numerous studies and surveys. The pressure to spend money on gifts, décor, parties, and attire, travel arrangements, and of course, the uptick in the electricity bill can cause anyone to break a sweat. Financial stress can spoil the most festive of seasons. 

One way to protect your mental health in this respect is to practice financial self-care. While it might not be as fun as a face mask or yoga class, it’s a necessary step toward preventing a strain on your emotional well-being. Consider taking inventory of your finances, planning upcoming expenses, and recalibrating expectations for seasonal expenditures. Refer back to step two (saying no!) in order to prevent expenses that don’t significantly add joy (i.e., value) to your life this season. 

Pre-Book Therapy Sessions

Get ahead of the game and get on your therapist’s schedule (or a new therapist’s schedule!) so you can strategize mental health tactics that are specific to your own state and circumstances. Having a trusted mental health practitioner, be that a counselor, licensed therapist, psychologist, or psychiatrist, can bolster your mental and emotional strength in a time that — while lovely — can be rather arduous. 

Practice Gratitude

In times of high stress and mental health struggles, someone telling you to “just be grateful” can feel flippant and insensitive (as well as, well… completely useless). While a gratitude practice can’t eradicate all your problems — holiday or otherwise — it can certainly add to your mental and emotional fortitude while giving you something to smile about through it all. It’s a science-backed coping mechanism that’s 100% free (hello, financial self-care!), and to boot, it’s seasonally appropriate to be giving some thanks

Keep an AM and PM gratitude list by your bedside for an easy way to start and end your day with a grateful heart. Think of it as strength training for your mind! Consistency is key. 

Manage Your Mental Health For a Happy and Healthy Holiday Season

While the holiday season can be a joyous time filled with love and gratitude, not everyone shares this experience. For many, the holidays can be challenging. So if you’re lacking holiday cheer and feel sad, stressed, or anxious, know it’s perfectly normal – you’re certainly not alone. However, by prioritizing and protecting your mental health, it’s so much easier to survive (maybe even thrive?!) the holiday season. When you’re in need of support, come back to these tips. Though simple, they can have a profound effect on you + your health and happiness.