The holidays can be associated with very different sets of feelings for each of us. For some, those feelings may be joy, warmth and excitement. For others, it can spark feelings of loneliness, worry and stress. Regardless of where you typically fall on the holiday spectrum, going through the holiday season in the midst of a pandemic adds its own set of unexpected feelings. Whether it’s added stress about the health and safety of you and your loved ones or the anxiety over last minute changes in plans, it’s become overwhelming to manage. 

By taking the proper steps to prepare yourself mentally and emotionally for the holiday season, you have the potential to minimize your stress. Hopefully, you may even experience more joy.

Prioritize self-care. The first and most important thing to remember during the holiday is that self-care is a priority. Too often during the holiday season, we get caught up worrying about pleasing and supporting everyone else’s needs and forget about our own. Now, worrying about others is important, but not at the expense of your own self-care. It is impossible to give your all to others if you aren’t giving your all to yourself first. Take some time to do things that will “fill your cup”, like reading a book, listening to your favorite music, watching a movie… as long as it’s something you enjoy. There’s no reason to feel guilty about doing small things to rest and recharge from your daily responsibilities.

Maintain health habits. Don’t use the holiday as an excuse to abandon healthy habits like eating right, sleeping enough or exercising/moving during the week. All of those things help to stabilize your mood, so uprooting those habits could drastically impact how you feel not only physically but emotionally as well. It is normal (and expected) that the holidays have a tendency to challenge our routines with the cookie trays, family dinners and time off from work, but that doesn’t mean you can’t maintain control. Allow yourself some flexibility, forgive yourself for the extra sweets and slightly later morning wake-ups, but account for that with the other decisions you make throughout the days/weeks.

Accept help and seek support. You don’t have to carry the weight of the world on your shoulders. It is also okay to feel sadness, grief and loneliness even during a time of the year people “expect” everyone to be joyful and happy. Your emotions are yours to feel and express and sometimes, that becomes easier when you have the support of others to do so. Reach out to your friends and family and let them know how you’re feeling. 

Maybe friends and family are dealing with their own set of stressors and you need another safe outlet. There are so many options available to help you manage your emotional and mental health. It could be something as simple as reaching out to a local community support group, attending a virtual event, or volunteering with groups that have common interests. Additionally, more significant levels of support through trained professionals may be more of what you need. Options like telehealth make connecting with a mental health professional easier than ever, especially here at Heyl Family Practice.

Set necessary and appropriate boundaries. The point here is that it is okay to say “no”, especially when you’re feeling overwhelmed. Obviously there are situations where saying “no” may not be an option (i.e. tasks related to your job, for example), but that just means you have to prioritize what other things you say “yes” or “no” to in order to avoid feeling burnt out, resentful and stressed. If you know certain tasks are going to take up a substantial amount of time in the coming weeks, look for small tasks that you can cross off your list for the time being to allow for more breathing room in your schedule.

More than that, if you know certain people or tasks add unnecessary stress to your life, it is okay to set boundaries and say “no” to those things. Setting these kinds of boundaries during a high-stress time of the year (like now) will help to lay the groundwork for you to maintain those boundaries even after the holiday is over. Your mental health is your priority and anyone/anything that puts that at risk should be addressed accordingly.

Adopt an “Attitude of Gratitude”. Too often it is very easy to focus on the bad things that are happening to us, especially at a time where loss, isolation and unexpected changes are becoming more prevalent. Gratitude allows us to recognize the good in our lives and the sources of those good things. Wake up each day, or use a few moments during downtime throughout the week, to focus on things you are grateful for. Not sure where to start? Here’s some examples of some easy ways to practice gratitude in your daily life:

  • Set a reminder for yourself on your phone to pause and think of something you’re grateful for in that moment.
  • When something negative pops in your mind, challenge it with a positive thought.
  • Think about what lessons you can take away from stressful situations instead of solely focusing on your stress.
  • Write a review for a business that provided a positive experience.

Set realistic expectations. As time passes, traditions you’re used to experiencing may naturally change. Family members may pass away. Typical gatherings may not occur. All-in-all, the holiday may look nothing like it did the year before, but it’s important to recognize that and set your expectations accordingly. This year, amidst a pandemic, things are changing almost daily. Instead of feeling disappointed and let down that things are different, find ways to create new traditions and memories. For example, in-person gatherings may not be possible, but what about a group video chat? Still want to consider a true celebration of the holiday without putting people at risk? How about Christmas in July, when things (hopefully) settle down? The more realistic you are with your expectations, the less opportunity to feel overly disappointed.

Plan ahead (when you can). Even though there are tons of unexpected things happening, if you plan ahead for the things you can control, you will lower your stress and avoid feeling overwhelmed unnecessarily. Do you have items you know you need on a weekly basis? Take advantage of curbside pick-up or delivery services that you can plan on a weekly basis to deliver the essentials right to your home. Not only does it cut down on the time you typically spend in the store, but it ensures you’ll have what you need when you need it.

Some of these suggestions may seem easier than others and that’s okay. It’s not about doing it all, it’s about taking small steps to manage your mental health during the holiday season. If you feel like that may even seem like too much for you, that’s okay. We have staff here to support you. Brad and Emily Heyl, our in-house professional counselors, can help you identify and manage your needs effectively. If you are interested in learning more about how to work with Brad or Emily, call our office to schedule an intake appointment.

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