The holiday season, especially Christmas, is often portrayed as a time of joy, celebration, and togetherness. However, amidst the festive cheer, it's crucial to acknowledge that this period can also bring forth various mental health challenges for many individuals.
For some, the pressure to conform to societal expectations of happiness and merriment during Christmas can amplify feelings of loneliness, anxiety, or depression. The emphasis on family gatherings and social events might trigger painful emotions for those who have experienced loss, estrangement, or are separated from loved ones. Old traumas connected to the family can resurface.
The hustle and bustle of the season, coupled with financial strain due to increased expenses, can contribute to heightened stress levels. The constant bombardment of advertisements promoting the "perfect" holiday experience can create unrealistic standards, leading to feelings of inadequacy and disappointment. The stress of the end of the year and the urge to finish some tasks to not take them into the new year can increase our stress level on top of it.
Moreover, the shorter days and colder weather during the Winter season can exacerbate Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) for some individuals, impacting their mood and energy levels.
And well, it feels like everyone is sick these days, so we try to avoid at all costs to get the flu, covid or anything else that bound us to the bed and might make any symptoms even worse. And, oh gosh, all the Christmas parties, the hangovers, overeating and social pressure and stress.
I could just keep on going with my list, but let´s just agree on the fact that it´s a lot to deal with.
I, for example, am prepping myself since a while in therapy to (hopefully) handle the holidays in a healthy (or let´s be honest: in a healthier) manner compared to the past. And, I already have scheduled an appointment after to see how it went, how I feel and what went good and bad. To reflect on the situation in general, my progress and the things I still have to work on. We try to work on strategies to take off the pressure, set healthy boundaries, working on my expectations and to not lose myself on old emotions. Basically, prepping my inner child and my adult side.
So, here are some skills we talked about that I will (or at least try to) use:
Be kind to yourself: It's okay not to feel jolly and festive all the time. Allow yourself to acknowledge and accept your emotions, whatever they may be. Practice self-care and kindness towards yourself. Focus on the inside rather than on the outside and on others, their opinions and what they think you have to do.
Practice Mindfulness: Stay present in the moment and focus on what you can control. Mindfulness techniques (like breathing exercises) can help reduce anxiety and stress.
Set Boundaries: Learn to say no to commitments that overwhelm you. Prioritize your mental well-being by balancing social or family engagements and alone time. This is about you and you get to decide whats good for you.
Manage Finances: Set a budget to avoid financial stress during the holiday season. Remember, expensive gifts aren't necessary to show love and appreciation.
Connect with Others: If you're feeling isolated, seek out support networks, whether it's friends, family, or online communities. Virtual gatherings or reaching out for a conversation can alleviate feelings of loneliness.
Manage Expectations: Communication plays a large role in successfully managing expectations. After you've acknowledged your expectations, communicate them to those around you. Ask clarifying questions to gain context and address any assumptions you may have. Ask yourself if the expectation is still realistic, helpful, or important.
Plan Ahead: If you're aware that certain situations or gatherings may be triggering, plan how you'll manage those moments. Have an exit plan or coping strategies in place.
Seek (Professional) Help: Seek as much help as you need. Especially around that time seeking support can be a huge relief. Don´t hesitate to ask for guidance and strategies from a professional or a counseling center, close friends, coaches or whoever you think could help.
Create Meaningful Traditions: Establish your own traditions that bring you joy and comfort if traditional celebrations trigger negative emotions or if you have the urge to do things differently than your family. It could be simple activities like baking, putting up your own tree or decorations in the house, watching movies, or volunteering. I got the cheesiest (white) Christmas tree and got my decorating done quite early rather than last minute as I was used to and I gotta admit, I enjoy it every single day.
Stick to your Routines: And last but not least, with all the stress and pressure, do not forget to stick to your "normal" routines. If it´s meditating, exercising, practicing gratitude or whatever, take some extra time and keep them going! We need these habits in these tough times more than ever.
Remember, your mental health matters, especially during the holidays. Christmas can be a time of warmth and connection, but it's equally important to acknowledge and address the emotional challenges it can bring. Be kind to yourself and prioritize self-care. Embrace the season in a way that aligns with your well-being.