3 Strategies for Promoting Mental Health Care During the Holiday Season
There is no denying that 2020 has been a difficult year. The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way we live, interact and relate with one another and with the holiday season upon us, many have felt themselves wondering how COVID-19 will have changed the way we celebrate. The holidays are often thought of as a time of excitement, joy and celebration, but in reality, they are also a time of heightened stress, anxiety and sadness. If you find yourself feeling these emotions during the holiday season be assured, you are not alone and read on for a few practical ways you can help protect and nourish your mental health during the holidays in this already difficult year.
Practice self-compassion and acknowledge your feelings
Reflecting and recognising our internal dialogue and practicing compassion and understanding is a powerful mental health tool. If over the course of the holidays you catch yourself ruminating on the stresses of the season, or feelings of sadness, try acknowledging the thought and accepting it as it comes then allow it to move past you. This can look something like “I am feeling really sad about not being able to see my family this holiday season because of COVID, it makes sense I would feel this way as so much has been difficult this year and it is okay to feel this way. I am human and the situation is out of my control.” Research has shown that having this type of compassion and self-dialogue can reduce stress, anxiety and feelings of depression. It can be difficult to have the awareness to interrupt a negative train of thought, but next time you find yourself in a place like the one above, try practicing this strategy.
For many the stress of the holidays is rooted in the obligations of social gatherings, whether they be with friends or families. It is easy to feel spread thin during the holidays due to relational difficulties, painful past experiences or simply overextended by the increase in socialisation and expectations. If you find yourself feeling this way, try re-evaluating where you can say no, communicate boundaries, and schedule in time for yourself to take a breather from the family time.
- Saying no is a challenge for many of us, but it is important to be able to do so in order to take care of yourself and prioritise your own mental health. If your family hosts a large Christmas meal and you often are asked to cook many of the dishes but find this overwhelming, try saying no and asking others for help instead. You may be surprised at how willing others are to help if you would just ask. Plus, it does not have to be your job to carry this responsibility if it is detrimental to your mental health and affects your enjoyment of the time spent together.
- Communicating boundaries is another area that many find difficult but is incredibly important if you want to thrive during this time. If you find yourself wishing you could opt out of family traditions as you find them mentally taxing, tell your family that you will join them for portions of the tradition or only for a couple of hours. It can feel scary to challenge traditions, but just because you have always done something does not mean that you have to continue to do so if it is not right for you. Much like saying no, setting boundaries and communicating changes you are making to promote your own mental wellbeing is well worth it in the long run.
- Scheduling time for yourself or even finding time for yourself during the business of the holidays is a challenge. It is important to take time for yourself during the holidays to ensure you are filling your own emotional needs and taking care of yourself in practical ways like eating a nourishing meal, getting enough sleep, and finding time to be alone and quiet in the chaos. Doing these practical self-care things will help your overall mental state as you move through the busy days with family. Another thing you can try on those full days with family, is slipping away to an empty room and taking 10 minutes to yourself to focus on your breathing, check in with how you are feeling and practice the self-compassion discussed above.
It might be surprising but another way to take care of your mental health during the holidays is to find ways to give back to your community through volunteering. Many organisations' busiest times are during the holidays as demand for their services surges. Research shows that volunteering can have a profound effect on one’s mental health and can provide long lasting benefits in improving depression and anxiety. Below you can find organisations in the Brisbane area looking for volunteers.
Always seek support by speaking with a trusted friend or family member or by continuing to attend psychological therapy sessions. You can also call one of Australia’s national 24/7 crisis support services such as Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Beyondblue on 1300 224 636.
From the team at True North Psychology - we wish you a safe and joyful holiday season.