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

From the festive decorations, to the holiday treats, to the joyous gatherings, preparing for the holiday season can bring lots of joy and laughter. However, for many, it’s not all bright and merry. In fact, this time of year can often stir up feelings of stress, anxiety, and overwhelm. And just so you know, this can be true for even the most cool, calm, and collected people! The truth is, the holiday season can throw lots of curve balls our way. Between overbooked calendars, to holiday traffic, to work deadlines, and, of course, the in-laws and loved ones that overstay their welcome… There are many stressors that can overtake the joy of the season. But, not this year!  

Ahead, we’re sharing 7 tips to protect your mental health during the busy holiday season.

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. While seasonal affective disorder, social media, and other factors may be contributing to the holiday blues, no matter the reason, it’s important to find something that brings you joy.

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, baking holiday cookies, 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. 

RELATED: How to Set Boundaries + Why You Should

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. Create a ‘zen den’ with meditation cushions, aromatherapy, headphones, comfy blankets, eye masks — any tools or products that will help you feel calm and grounded.

While it can feel uncomfortable to set boundaries, 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 (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. 

Here are some practices to consider:

  • Try a mid-day yoga nidra session to rebalance your nervous system
  • Leave your phone at home and go for a mindful walk in nature
  • Grab a sweater and cozy blanket and sip your morning coffee outdoors (to get some Vitamin D!)
  • Set some time aside to journal – this could be a brain dump, a gratitude list, or spending time to plan out and write down your future 2024 goals 

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.

RELATED: The Must-Have Wellness Essentials That Will Help You Prep For a Healthier Fall

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. 

If this isn’t an option for you, make sure to mind other means of support. This could be calling a loved one or finding a community where you feel safe, loved, and supported (whether it’s joining a yoga studio or volunteering at a local organization).

Practice Gratitude

In times of high stress and mental health struggles, it can be hard to find gratitude. However, give it a try — even if you have to “fake it until you make it”. 

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 been shown to improve your health! Plus, it’s 100% free, and with so many struggling with their mental health, it’s a great time to give some thanks

Start a gratitude journal or 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.

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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.